As Ontario’s daily COVID-19 case count has risen steeply in recent weeks, the Ford government has already taken a number of actions to bring down case counts, such as updating testing guidelines, reducing the size of private gatherings, closing strip clubs and limiting when alcohol can be served, and limiting who can visit long-term care homes in COVID hot spots.
During this time, focus has quickly turned to the pandemic’s second wave. Over the past few days, the Ford government has been unveiling the measures making up the pillars of Ontario’s fall preparedness plan. Yesterday, the government released the full, 33-page plan as well as updated modeling to help Ontario businesses and residents understand what we’re in for and what the Ford government is doing to keep Ontarians safe and our economy open.
Based on the modelling data released yesterday, it is clear Ontario is experiencing the beginning of a second wave. Ontario’s trajectory is viewed as similar to some other jurisdictions, such as Michigan, and we are forecast to see around 1,000 cases per day in the first half of October. Ontario may also see between 200-300 cases in the ICU per day, if cases continue to grow.
As new cases began to rise, it was initially the 20-39 age group where most cases were occurring. Recent data shows cases are now rising in all age groups, indicating spillover into other age groups including our vulnerable populations. Cases are now doubling every 10-12 days.
An important part of the modelling focuses not just on case counts, but on patients in the ICU. Hospitals can continue to provide non-COVID services and all scheduled surgeries with under 150 COVID-19 patients in the ICU. If COVID-19 cases in the ICU rise to between 150-350 (as the modelling suggests is a strong possibility), the ICU capacity will be strained and may impact some non-COVID care. If COVID-19 cases in the ICU rise above 350 then it will be near impossible to provide non-COVID care, including scheduled surgeries.
On September 19 and 25, the Ford government has already taken action to restrict certain activities, but it is too soon to see the impact these have had on flattening the curve. Ultimately, as the Chief Medical Officer of Health reminded all Ontarians, it is our collective actions that can determine what the second wave looks like. A reminder once again to: avoid large gatherings; practice physical distancing; wash hands frequently; stay at home if you’re feeling sick; and to wear a mask when physical distancing isn’t possible.
Ontario’s Fall Preparedness Plan
Over the past few days, the Ford government has been rolling out the individual pillars in Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19. The plan encompasses six pillars and commits $2.8 billion to ensure the province is able to protect the health and safety of all Ontarians by identifying, preventing, and responding to surges in COVID-19. Efforts are already underway to implement these pillars.
Under this pillar, Ontario is expanding testing capacity and improving case and contact management. As part of this pillar, the Ford government has expanded COVID testing locations to selected pharmacies.
Ontario is expanding its flu shot immunization campaign and encouraging all Ontarians to get the vaccine this year. High-dose flu shots for seniors will be available at pharmacies for the first time this year. Flu shots should be available in the coming days.
Under this pillar, the government is building on its efforts to prevent, minimize and manage outbreaks in priority sectors including long-term care homes, retirement homes, education, child care and agriculture.
Ontario government is providing resources to ensure the health system is able to provide services to reduce the surgery backlog while continuing to manage COVID-19 surges and the flu season.
Ensuring the health system can continue to provide routine health services while responding to surges of COVID-19 cases.
Ontario is investing to recruit, retain and support over 3,700 more frontline health care workers and caregivers to ensure the health care system has the human resources to maintain services and meet any surge in demand.
While not one of the pillars, the COVID-19: Long-Term Care Preparedness Plan (Funding: $540 million), released this week, is also considered part of the fall preparedness plan.
Through improved surveillance measures, renovations and measures to improve infection prevention and control, increased supply of PPE and an increased health care workforce, this plan will help ensure that long-term care homes are able to manage future waves of COVID-19.
What It Means
As case numbers rise, concerns are mounting that Ontario may need to shut down parts of the economy again. Media have been pressing the Premier about the metrics that will determine such actions over the past few days. And stakeholders have come out both in favour of and against a move back to Stage 2.
It is clear the Ford government will do everything it can to avoid a full-scale roll-back to Stage 2. With the fall preparedness plan, the government has made clear how they intend to avoid such a scenario and put significant money behind it.
Should further restrictions be necessary, the Premier intends to take a more surgical approach by targeting specific regions and sectors of high-risk, rather than a full-scale return to Stage 2 across the province or even in a specific region. That said, the Premier has also made clear the health and safety of Ontarians is his number one priority and his decisions will be dictated by the advice he receives from the COVID Command Table. In the meantime, we can expect to see the Premier’s continued strong leadership in evidence at his daily briefings as he continues to focus both on protecting Ontarians and on Ontario’s economic recovery.
Ultimately, how severe or mild the second wave will be is up to all of us. While the second wave’s initial surge has been focused in specific regions, cases are beginning to rise everywhere and risk-taking behaviours are being seen province-wide. The modelling data provides a wake-up call to the impact of this risk-taking behaviour. By this point, we all should be aware of the public health measures we personally can take to stop the spread: wash hands, physically distance, wear a mask, stay home when sick and avoid large gatherings. Whether we follow these measures will determine what further measures, if any, the Province will have to take.
Whether your organization is in a high-risk sector or one that was previously deemed essential, you are well advised to review your contingency plans and to remind your staff of their role in stopping the virus’ spread. Sussex consultants would be happy to work with you to ensure appropriate measures are in place and to ensure the Ford government knows the precautions you are taking.