Ontario's Science Table, the group that looks over all the COVID-19 issues in the province, said Friday that the pandemic situation is worse now than ever before in Ontario.
A technical briefing was presented to the Ontario media indicating that tougher provincial restrictions could be on the way, which might also include a longer six-week shutdown. It was also revealed that in terms of new COVID-19 cases developing in the midst of Ontario's vaccine rollout plan, the vaccines are losing the race right now.
Taking part in the event was Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of health, and Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, who both indicated they're pushing the government to have tougher restrictions.
Brown said during the briefing that health care measures in Ontario are no longer "normal." He said extraordinary measures are being taken to look after a growing number of COVID-19 patients being sent to hospital and more of those patients are needing intensive care.
Hospitals filling up
"After more than a year of fighting this together, we are now entering the hardest stage," said Brown.
"Cases have risen. Hospitals have filled up. And across Ontario it is very clear we are very much in the third wave of COVID-19. And the numbers are still rising," he added.
Brown said one of the problems is that everyone is so frustrated and fatigued, they might not notice how serious the changes are.
"Notice that our hospitals can no longer function normally. They are bursting at the seams. We are setting up field hospitals and we are separating critically ill patients from their families by helicoptering them across the province for care," Brown said.
"Children's hospitals are now admitting adults as patients. This has never happened in Ontario before. It has never happened in Canada before."
Brown also called on the public to notice that more and more people are getting vaccinations, and although Ontario is about a quarter of the way through its provincial strategy, Brown said it is not working as well as it might.
"We are now focussing more on the people who need the vaccine the most, but the disparities are still there. The communities who need the vaccine the least are still getting more of it than the communities who need it the most."
Speak up if you see a problem
Brown said public health units across the province are doing the best to prioritize who needs the vaccines. He urged all residents to get the vaccine because the faster that happens, the faster the third wave will be knocked down.
Even as the Ontario vaccination rollout plan continues, and while the vaccines are gradually improving the situation, Brown said vaccinations are not reaching people at high-risk fast enough to overcome the level of serious illness in Ontario communities and hospitals.
Brown also asked people to notice things such as friends, neighbours and even your parents who go out without masks. Notice, he said, if your workplace is open when it shouldn't be. Notice if the workplace is not safe. Notice the types of behaviour that could put people in the hospital, the same hospitals where there are not enough nurses and doctors, said Brown. And say something.
"Notice that stuff and say something. It's uncomfortable, but it will save lives," Brown added.
He added that residents should notice a Northern Ontario community where things are being turned around, Thunder Bay.
"Thunder Bay was the centre of a huge outbreak only two months ago, but it has flattened the curve in an impressive way. The whole city came together, shut itself down, focused on the fight and got it done," said Brown.
Testing flatlined, but cases still rising
In a possible portent of new restrictions, Brown said everyone needs to take steps to reduce contacts, reduce mobility and do whatever it takes to stop the spread of the virus. He said enforcement is also required to ensure workplaces stay safe and that anyone who is sick or has any sickness symptoms must stay at home.
Also speaking at the briefing was Dr. Williams who said the Ontario case count was rising so steeply that it could top 5,000 cases on the weekend. Friday's case count was 4,812.
Williams also mentioned that the COVID-19 positivity rate was increasing, meaning that although the number of tests on residents was not increasing by any substantial rate, the number of new positive COVID-19 cases was definitely on the rise.
"There has been a sense among the public that this pandemic is really not such a big deal," said Williams. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
He added that there is a lot of opposition to possible restrictions from people who think it would be easier just to get the disease, cope with it and be done with it.
Williams said people may have been thinking like that in the first and second wave of the pandemic, but that doesn't apply anymore.
"You really have to take it seriously now," said Williams, advising people to knuckle down and start following public health measures more seriously.
In the question and answer period that followed the doctors' presentations, one reporter asked if summer has been lost in Ontario.
Brown responded it was iffy.
"If we had a very, very strong adherence to public health measures. If we were able to really tamp down the spread of the virus right now and if we were able to get as many vaccines as we can into arms — I know we can do 100,000; that's working out right now; 300,000 that's a very optimistic scenario — but were that able to happen, you'd see very low case numbers by the end of June," said Brown. "You could still see a bit of summer."
Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. He covers health care in Northern Ontario.