Indications suggest Ontario can expect 'a much better summer'

Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones will release an update on the province's vaccine program at 1 p.m.

Ottawa Citizen 10 minute read June 11, 2021

COVID-19 infections in Ontario are declining dramatically, and new modelling suggests that “with a few points of caution, we can look forward to a much better summer,” Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said Thursday.

Brown delivered a presentation prepared by science, health and modelling experts who provide information the Ontario government can use to craft its COVID-19 response.

“To be clear, we’re not out of the woods just yet,” Brown cautioned. The more transmissible, potentially more dangerous Delta variant, first identified in India, is tracking to become the dominant form of the virus this summer.

“But we believe we can control it with the right actions.”

That means getting more vaccines into arms expeditiously, and quickly expanding second-dose protection, Brown explained.

The effectiveness of a first vaccine dose is lower when it comes to protecting against the Delta variant, the presentation explained, with effectiveness more than doubling after dose two.

Avoiding a fourth wave also requires robust testing and contact tracing, according to the presentation, as well as continuing to tailor vaccine clinics to community needs.

“And there is also our own choices in this,” said Brown.

Namely, getting vaccinated, tested if you’re sick, and following the public health measures that remain in place. Taken together, Brown explained, these actions are a recipe for a good summer, and continuing progress through the fall.

While Brown noted there’s “a lot of uncertainty” about the projections presented Thursday for daily cases, Ontario is currently on a trajectory that that would see daily cases drop below 500, and continue to decline as the summer progresses.

Under almost all modelled scenarios, the number of COVID-19 patients in Ontario ICUs drops to about 200 by mid-July, at which point “almost normal hospital operations” can start to resume, Brown explained.

Latest COVID-19 news in Ontario

The province is allowing more people to book earlier second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Ottawa, however, isn’t currently part of that group because it hasn’t been deemed an area of concern for the worrying Delta variant, first identified in India and now established in Ontario.

Ontario announced that starting Monday, people who received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on or before May 9, living in the Toronto, Peel, Halton, York, Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and Porcupine health unit regions, will be able re-book accelerated second doses, as early as 28 days after their first Pfizer or Moderna shot.

Currently, July 9 is the planned date for the rest of the people who received a first mRNA dose between April 19 and May 9 to become eligible for an earlier second shot.

But it seems likely that date will move up.

The province has committed to expanding eligibility for an accelerated dose two, once the feds confirm more vaccine allocations and shipment timelines. Some two million Moderna doses, expected in June, will be part of that.

Meanwhile, Ontarians who got one or both vaccine doses outside the province — hello, snowbirds — can now register their vaccinations through their local public health unit, though they’ll need to provide proof to be added to the system.

This will allow people to book a second dose in the province, if required, as well as offer them a way to show their immunization status, if needed down the line, and help the province more accurately understand vaccine coverage in Ontario.

Those who got an AstraZeneca first dose are being offered second-dose vaccination 12 weeks after their first, the “gold standard” interval for that vaccine, as Health Minister Christine Elliott put it Thursday.

They can choose to receive another AZ shot or a mRNA shot for dose two, and the latter may be secured through the provincial system, in addition to a participating pharmacy or primary care provider.

The province has said that AstraZeneca allocations will expand across the province in the coming weeks, mirroring the initial AZ rollout, “to ensure access” as patients who want AZ for dose two hit the 12-week mark.

The positive modelling briefing comes as the province prepares to enter the first step of its reopening plan on Friday, which will allow limited retail shopping and patio dining among other measures.

New COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have dropped in recent weeks and the province is moving ahead with the first step of its reopening plan a few days early.

More restrictions will loosen after 21 days if pandemic indicators improve and more people get their second vaccine doses.

Despite positive trends, officials say they’re monitoring the spread of a more infectious virus variant, called ‘Delta,’ first identified in India.

Ontario reported 590 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, a slight increase compared to the last few days, but still far lower than what the province was reporting, even last week.

The Ministry of Health says 516 people are hospitalized with the virus — 450 in intensive care and 291 on a ventilator.

The seven-day average is now 617 daily cases.

Thursday’s total included 130 new cases in Peel, 114 in Toronto, and 61 in Waterloo. In every other health unit region, fewer than 40 cases were reported.

Ottawa’s case count rose by 25, according to Public Health Ontario reporting, while three new cases were logged in

Leeds, Grenville & Lanark, two

in Eastern Ontario, and one in Renfrew County and District. No new cases were added to Kingston’s total.

Eleven deaths in people who tested positive for COVID-19 were reported Thursday, while the number of people in ICU because of the disease dropped by 16 in the last day, to 450.

There have now been more than 10.6 million vaccine doses administered in Ontario, while nearly 1.4 people are fully vaccinated.

Latest COVID-19 news in Ottawa

So far, the Delta variant doesn’t appear to have a foothold in Ottawa, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches confirmed Thursday. It’s the Alpha variant (formerly known as the U.K, variant) that’s dominated here, while the few Delta cases identified in Ottawa were in travellers, and appear to have been contained.

However, Etches said Delta is expected to take over, based on what’s been seen in the Greater Toronto Area.

“We’re a connected province, patterns of growth in one area can lead to growth in other areas,” she said. Important to remember, however, is that the basics still work for variants – vaccination, two metres of distance, masks.

“So we just need to keep using these tools, they will work and continue to bring the level of COVID lower so that we can get on and live with a very low level of COVID,” said Etches.

As restrictions lift in Ottawa and most of rest of the province Friday, Etches encouraged people to choose lower-risk ways of connecting with those they don’t live with. Do so outside, and keep two metres of distance (you don’t need a mask, unless you get closer).

“We can’t rely on the vaccines yet at this point to do all that work, to stop COVID in our communities. The day will come, but at this point, we still have people who need their first doses and then second doses,” Etches explained.

How about hitting up a newly-opened patio with someone you don’t live with? “It’s not the lowest-risk choice,” said Etches.

This is because you will be within two metres, without a mask, so there is that possibility of COVID transmission.

“We’re easing into this. We’ll monitor how things are going and and provide feedback to people,” Etches said.

Etches also had some additional reassurance for any anxious AstraZeneca recipients, worried they won’t be able to secure a second dose 12 weeks after their first.

For those looking for another AZ dose, the province is now shipping those to Ottawa, “so that the pharmacies that offered AstraZeneca will have AstraZeneca to give to people at the 12-week period,” said Etches.

Primary care is also understood to be getting doses. Etches advised people to call the provider that gave them their first shot.

For AZ recipients looking to got poked with a mRNA vaccine for their second shot, Etches said more appointments will be added to the provincial system as more vaccine supply is confirmed.

And if an AstraZeneca recipient is truly at risk of reaching the 12-week mark without having secured a second-dose appointment, Etches said they can call OPH.

“Ottawa Public Health is happy to see what can be done if there are people that are really coming up to that deadline,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks.”

OPH reported 25 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, and one additional death.

Over the previous seven days, a total of 251 new cases were reported (an average of 35 daily). The estimated R(t) value (a seven-day average) is 0.8. As OPH explains, a R(t) value of less than one indicates that the epidemic is coming under control.

There are 24 Ottawans hospitalized with COVID-19, including four in ICU.

One new outbreak was reported locally on Thursday, involving one resident case at a supported independent living home.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Watson has begun beating the drums to encourage people to safely take advantage of the economy’s reopening.

NEW: As patios reopen tomorrow, I’m launching a local campaign to encourage those who are able to enjoy a meal at a restaurant to be patient, kind & generous with servers. If you can, #TopUpYourTip to show your support for those who have been out of work for several months. pic.twitter.com/gaKpIZqcHC — Jim Watson (@JimWatsonOttawa) June 10, 2021

A number of Ottawa bistros and bars are set to open after the stroke of midnight Friday.

Meanwhile, OC Transpo is reopening some services in accordance with step one of the province’s reopening plan.

The customer service centre in the Rideau Centre will reopen by appointment only, beginning on Friday. Appointments are available Monday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Call 613-741-4390 to book an appointment.

All other OC Transpo customer service centres remain closed at this time.

The lost and found service, managed by Heartwood House, returns to regular operating hours starting Monday, June 14.

The offices are open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. all other weekdays. The offices are closed Saturdays and Sundays.

Please call or email Heartwood House to identify your item before going to the Lost & Found office.

Latest COVID-19 news in Quebec

Quebec reported 189 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the fifth straight day with fewer than 200 new infections.

The province’s positivity rate was below one per cent for the second day in a row.

Two new deaths were reported, neither of which occurred over the previous 24 hours.

Hospitalizations fell for the 17th consecutive day, with 251 people hospitalized, a drop of five.

However, ICU cases rose by four, for a total of 64.

In the Outaouais, there were 21 new cases reported, up sharply from seven cases on Wednesday.

The province said 84,936 additional vaccine doses were administered in the previous 24 hours.

Latest COVID-19 news in Canada

Canada’s COVID-19 infections continue to plummet, with the seven-day average of new cases sitting at 1,611 as of Thursday.

The number represents the lowest level seen since Sept. 30, 2020.

It’s down almost one-third from just a week ago, and down 82 per cent from the third wave peak of more than 8,800 new cases per day on average in the third week of April.

Canada’s rate of new infections also fell below the United States Thursday for the first time in two months.

Canada’s daily average rate of new infections surpassed the U.S. rate for the first time in the pandemic on April 9 when Canada recorded 206 new cases for every one million people, compared to 205 south of the border.

Canada’s infection rate in the third wave peaked less than 10 days later at 233 cases.

On June 9, it recorded a rate of 43 new infections for every million people, while the U.S. recorded a rate of 46 cases per million.

-With files from Postmedia and The Canadian Press