March 11, 2021, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, and Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Health at the University of Toronto, Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, provided an update on COVID-19 trends and public health modelling in Ontario.
The update underscored that progress has “stalled,” with 24 of the province’s 34 public health units (PHUs) reporting increased cases over the last two weeks. According to Dr. Brown, our behaviour and adherence to public health measures over the next several weeks will be critical in determining the quality of the upcoming summer.
Following today’s update, Dr. Williams and Dr. Brown responded to questions from media.
Earlier, Ontario announced $5 million to help municipal fire services address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as $300,000 to help young people access supports to help manage stress, depression, and anxiety.
The province also announced the activation of the emergency brake measure in the Public Health Sudbury and Districts region today. Due to concerning public health trends in the region, the PHU will be moved to the Grey-Lockdown level of the province’s COVID-19 Response Framework, effective tomorrow, March 12, at 12:01 a.m.
Earlier today, Premier Doug Ford released a statement to mark the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Ontario will outline the next phase of its COVID-19 Action Plan through the 2021 Budget, which will be released on Wednesday, March 24. The Budget will support the ongoing vaccine distribution plan, provide additional resources for the health care sector, and contain initiatives to protect the economic well-being of families, workers, and employers.
COVID-19 Modelling Update
Today, Dr. Williams and Dr. Brown released updated COVID-19 modelling for Ontario. Key findings include:
- Vaccination in long-term care has paid off, resulting in a decrease in both cases and deaths within the sector.
- Overall progress in battling COVID-19 spread has stalled, and declines in community cases and test positivity have levelled off.
- Variants of concern continue to spread across the province. Our ability to control the rate of spread will determine whether we return to normal or face a third wave.
- There is a significant backlog of health care in the province, caused by the postponement of non-urgent services and procedures, as well as patients staying away from the health system out of fear of COVID-19. Ontario’s health system must be equipped to handle this surge in demand.
- Ontario’s seven-day average of new daily cases is 1,252, which is up from 1,064 last week.
Cases are increasing in most PHUs, with 24 of the province’s 34 PHUs reporting increased cases over the last two weeks, and 14 PHUs reporting growth rates of more than 30 per cent. According to Dr. Brown, these increases are being driven by a combination of loosened public health measures, increased mobility, and a rising proportion of variant cases. There are now 1,025 confirmed variant cases in the province, 956 of which are the B.1.1.7 variant (first detected in the U.K.).
According to modelling, in medium or worst-case scenarios which include aggressive relaxing of public health measures, cases are at risk of increasing substantially in the next three weeks. In a medium-case scenario, Ontario could observe 6,000 daily new cases in three weeks. Case projections depend heavily on the spread of the variants, which are highly transmissible.
Dr. Brown noted that Ontarians’ behaviour over the next few weeks will be “critical in determining the quality of our summer.” We can avoid a third wave by controlling cases, increasing vaccinations where they will have the greatest impact, and accelerating vaccinations overall.
Questions from Media
Return to Stay-at-Home Orders
When asked whether the province would consider re-implementing stay-at-home orders in order to prevent a third wave of the pandemic, Dr. Williams noted that this would require the province re-entering a state of emergency. He added that both he and Cabinet hoped to avoid this, but that they would be prepared to take this step if necessary.