Health care indicators suggest a general improvement in the province’s COVID 19 situation, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said Thursday.
Speaking at a press conference, Moore said the percentage of positive tests continued to decline, with last week’s average falling to 14.64% from 18.4% the previous week.
“Based on the current stabilization of Ontario’s testing strategy, this likely reflects a true decline,” Moore said.
“Long-term care outbreaks are also down, and we recently saw the first drop in the number of active long-term care resident cases since the Omicron variant became the dominant strain.
“There has also been an increase in wastewater sites across the province signaling a downward trend in detection of COVID-19. These trends are encouraging, but we must remain vigilant and adhere to measures that help reduce transmission,” he added.
The coming weeks “will continue to be difficult”
Meanwhile, Moore said some areas of the province “still have precarious and strained health care capacity,” and that more needs to be done to support all areas as Ontario moves forward with its reopening.
Moore was speaking after the province reported 75 additional deaths related to COVID-19 on Thursday.
More said while the coming weeks “will continue to be difficult” for the province’s hospital system, the number of hospitalizations is currently stable.
The Department of Health said Thursday morning that as of Wednesday there were 2,797 people with COVID-19 in hospitals across the province. That’s down from 2,939 the previous day and 3,645 at the same time last week.
About 56% of those patients were admitted for COVID-related illnesses while 44% were already hospitalized when they tested positive for the virus, according to the ministry.
The number of intensive care units remains high
Meanwhile, Moore said the number of intensive care units remains high, but the number of COVID-19 patients is now starting to decline.
He said the province has increased its capacity to provide care to those who need it.
There were 541 COVID-19 patients who needed intensive care, down from 555 the day before and 599 at the same time last week.
About 83% of people with COVID-19 in ICUs were admitted for reasons directly related to the virus.
The 75 additional COVID-19 deaths reported Thursday bring the province’s official toll to 11,651.
At Thursday’s press conference, Moore recognized educators, parents and students across the province for their dedication to making the return to in-person learning as successful and as safe as possible.
He said last week around 13.3% of students and staff were absent each day, and more than 94% of schools reported less than 30% of students and staff absent.
“We also found that less than one percent of schools were closed each day, so only seven out of 4,844 schools, and these closures are usually due to operational issues, such as staffing shortages,” Moore said.
“Keeping our children and youth in school is essential to their mental health and well-being, and I thank you for all the support you give to our children’s academic success.
Antivirals to help manage the impact of the virus
Moore said the province has antivirals to help manage the impact of COVID-19.
But he said that due to limited supplies of Paxlovid – an outpatient oral treatment – the province is “prioritizing distribution to unvaccinated individuals who are at risk of serious consequences from COVID 19 infection, including including hospitalization.
“This includes unvaccinated seniors 60 years and older, First Nations, Inuit and Métis 50 and older, and people 50 and older with underlying risk factors,” said Moore said.
“We are also prioritizing immunocompromised individuals 18 years of age and older, regardless of their vaccination status.”
Dr. Moore’s briefing comes after modeling from the province’s expert pandemic advisers predicted COVID-19 cases would rise after Monday’s partial reopening.
Ontario’s Science Advisory Table on COVID-19 said easing public health measures to control the Omicron variant would increase the spread of the virus, but experts couldn’t say by how much.
The group said the results will depend in part on the number of people recently infected, a difficult number to determine because the province has limited access to PCR testing. The province, however, plans to rely more on rapid antigen testing as supplies arrive from the federal government.
Restaurants, gyms and cinemas, among others, were allowed to reopen at half capacity on Monday with proof of vaccination rules in place for patrons.
Social gathering limits were raised to 10 people indoors and some surgeries that were paused to preserve health system capacity were also allowed to resume.
Relaxation of measures in LTC homes
The province has outlined a plan to begin easing the enhanced temporary measures at long-term care homes put in place in December in the face of the Omicron wave.
CBC News has obtained a copy of a memo, which was sent to all long-term care homes by Erin Hannah, associate deputy minister for long-term care policy and pandemic response.
Effective February 7, the maximum number of designated caregivers per resident will increase from two to four (unless they are designated before December 15). The limit of two visitors (currently only caregivers) at a time per resident, will continue, the memo says.
There will also be a resumption of daytime social absences for residents who have received at least three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, while supporting these residents with information on the benefits of limiting contact with others, including avoiding large social gatherings, after masking and physical distancing. as much as possible, and only be in close contact with people who have received three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to Hannah, a target date of February 21 has been set for the following:
- Reopen homes to all general visitors five years and older who have received at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Children under the age of five would still be banned from entering a long-term care home, with the exception of infants 12 months or younger.
- Increased limits on the number of visitors (including caregivers) who can visit one resident at a time to three.
- Extend daytime social absences to all residents, regardless of their vaccination status.
- Resumption of nocturnal social absences for residents who have received at least three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Resumption of adult day programs, entertainers and personal care services (when the person is not on staff) in homes. Social group activities should be kept in small groups (i.e. up to 10).
In addition, a target date of March 14 has been set for the following:
- Resumption of visits by general visitors under five. No vaccination requirement for children under five.
- Increase the limit on the number of visitors (including caregivers) at one time per resident to four.
- Authorize nocturnal social absences for all residents, regardless of their vaccination status.