No, We’re Not There Yet

The declaration of a pandemic, a year ago yesterday, is permanently etched in our memories. The same for the year that followed, full of grim milestones.

Twelve months into it we understand a lot more about effective individual precautions.  And sooner than was initially thought possible, we have multiple vaccines that work. It’s possible we could all have a shot by summer. (See the article below for more on vaccination).

Deaths from COVID in long-term care homes have all but ended, as almost all residents there have been vaccinated. Most of us have done our part to dramatically reduce the number of new cases in the general population.

With sunny warm weather returning, everything seems to be looking up. Except that it’s not – at least not yet.

Most signs point to the start of a Third Wave. Cases in Toronto, and across the province, are rising again. In Toronto, the all-important reproduction number, which had fallen to .8 a few weeks ago, is back above 1 – a strong indicator that cases will keep rising.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, who does scientific projections for the Province, yesterday presented a best-case scenario that Ontario infections would double to 2000 daily by early April. Whether they go much higher than that before we get vaccinated depends largely on the status of government restrictions and our personal behaviour.

The increasing number of cases coincides with recent re-openings, just as more contagious variants of the virus are taking hold. Data shows that 42% of new cases are variants of concern; as Darwin might have predicted, these will become increasingly dominant. Hospital ICU units are once again at risk of running out of capacity. Elective surgeries will continue to be cancelled, and screening for life-threatening illnesses such as cancer may continue to be reduced.

As an indication of how seriously the health care system is taking this threat, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre this week announced the opening of a 100-bed field hospital in the parking lot of its Bayview location. Earlier today, Peel Public Health closed down a massive Amazon facility, sending 5000 workers home to self-isolate.

After a year of isolation and restrictions, we are all fed up with the pandemic. A return to some semblance of normalcy is within sight, but we’re not there yet.

– John