Ontario’s COVID-19 Cases Decreased but New Virus Variant Presents a Significant Threat New Modelling Shows

A COVID-19 variant spreading in Ontario is a “significant threat” to controlling the pandemic, but maintaining existing public health interventions will likely help encourage a downward trend in cases, even with a return to school factored in.

That’s the takeaway of updated modelling data by the province’s COVID-19 advisory table, released Thursday.

By March, the B117 variant, first identified in the U.K., could be the dominant strain in the province, according to the data.

The modelling also indicates that cases and positivity are down in much of the province and that testing volumes are slightly down too.

Currently, COVID-19 cases are expected to drop from 1,000-2,000 by the end of February, but that could change as the new variant emerges more, said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the advisory board, said.

There is a grimmer revelation: While cases are declining in nursing homes, the number of deaths continues to rise, with 215 cases in the past seven days.

The capacity of the intensive care unit also continues to be limited in most areas with only one or two empty hospital beds in about half of the hospitals.

Essential work is still “strongly associated” with the risk of infection. Communities with the highest proportion of essential workers continue to have the highest case numbers.

Brown also noted the transmissibility of the B117 variant is at least 30 percent higher than the more common strain, if not higher. He also said there are concerns the variant could be more lethal, citing evidence out of the U.K.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health said Thursday that Ontario has been over-reporting the number of people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The error means that the number of Ontarians who have received both doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines is only half of what the province has been logging.

The province reported yesterday that 96,549 people had received both doses of either vaccine so far. In reality, only 48,239 had. That is up to 55,286 this morning.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said today that students in four more public health units have a green light to return to schools for in-person classes next week.

That’s about 280,000 students in the following health units:

  • Middlesex-London.
  • Ottawa.
  • Southwestern.
  • Eastern Ontario.

The next student population, from the ‘lockdown’ gray areas including Toronto, Peel, York Region, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton, is currently scheduled to return to live school on February 10.

Students in eleven other health units, including Halton and Durham regions and Simcoe-Muskoka, have not yet been told to expect when they’ll be able to return to schools.

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