‘Slight uptick’ in COVID-19 cases seen in wastewater data as Ontario prepares to drop most mask mandates

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While COVID-19 cases in Ontario have been declining since they peaked in early January amid the Omicron surge, the province is now beginning to see a “slight uptick” of disease spread through wastewater surveillance data, says a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

The new data is being released less than a week before mask mandates are set to lift in most settings.

Despite that, the coming months are still looking promising.

“We’re moving into the spring, we’re moving into warmer weather, so our short-term outlook in terms of a potential surge is looking relatively good,” assistant scientific director, Karen Born, told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Thursday.

“[But] as immunity wanes from vaccines or from prior infection, as we move more back into the fall … we may again begin to see some of the surges that we’ve experienced over the past two years.”

Born said it’s anticipated there will be seasonal surges of the novel coronavirus, similar to what is seen with Influenza, but experts hope that some of the more restrictive public health measures that were previously in place, such as school closures, will not have to be re-enforced.

The science table has had to rely on metrics like wastewater surveillance, test positivity and mobility data to model for possible COVID-19 trends since the province cut back on PCR testing late last year.

The group of expert pandemic advisers are set to release their latest modelling on the disease which will be published at noon.

The projections are expected as the province prepares to drop most of the public health measures still in place.

Capacity limits and proof-of-vaccination rules have already been dropped in most spaces and masks will no longer be required in many settings as of March 21.

Born said Ontario is in a “very good” position currently with high rates of vaccine uptake that are highly protective against severe illness and hospitalization. But as mask mandates lift and more people gather together indoors, there likely will be more transmission of the virus.

Masks will still be required in high-risk settings like long-term care homes and hospitals, and on public transit, until the end of April.

Province reports 19 more deaths

Ontario is reporting 19 more deaths linked to COVID-19 Thursday as the number of patients in intensive care dipped below 200 for the first time this year. The 19 additional deaths reported by the province push the official death toll to 12,307. 

There are 644 people hospitalized with the virus, marking a slight dip from 649 the day before and 742 exactly one week ago.

About 47 per cent of those admitted to hospital were directly seeking treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, while 53 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive for the virus.

Of the hospitalizations reported, there are 199 patients in intensive care, which is down from the 204 reported Wednesday and 244 at this time last week. The last time the province saw its ICU count dip below 200 was on Dec. 21, 2021 when the health ministry reported 190.

​Roughly 75 per cent of those patients were admitted to ICU specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons but also tested positive for the virus. 

Another 2,398 new COVID-19 cases have also been logged, though the province’s medical officer of health has warned the actual number of new cases is likely ten times higher, due to limited PCR testing available.

Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health’s daily provincial update:

Tests completed: 14,648

Provincewide test positivity rate: 12.3 per cent

Active cases: 15,397

Patients in ICU requiring a ventilator to breathe: 97

Vaccinations: 31,929,540 doses have been administered to date. Currently, 92.7 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and older have received at least one dose, while 90.8 per cent have received two doses.

About 89.9 per cent of Ontarians aged five or older have received at least one dose, while 86.2 per cent have received two doses.


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