What’s old, and new in COVID

Much has happened in the three weeks since my last newsletter.

Let’s start with what’s new that looks frighteningly similar to what’s old: far too many of us – many more than the politicians who jetted off to sunny climes while urging everyone else to stay home – haven’t followed Public Health advice. As a result, we’ve seen an even more dangerous spike in case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths.

This week, Toronto recorded 5600 new cases – up from the already alarming 4072 four weeks ago and 385 four months ago. In Toronto, 433 people are currently hospitalized with COVID; 97 of them are in ICU and 68 on ventilators. Deaths have risen dramatically, especially among vulnerable residents of nursing homes, where the tragedy from the first wave has been allowed to repeat itself.

It’s no secret why this is happening. According to Toronto Public Health, a third of those with recent infections report having gathered with people outside their household between Dec. 22 and Jan. 4.

And now to what is new – and there’s lots of it.

  1. With case numbers so high, schools in Toronto and other parts of southern Ontario will be closed for at least another two weeks, until January 25.

  2. Predictably, the virus has mutated several times. A variant emerging from England is thought to be more than 50% more transmissible. Adding 50% to the current reproduction rate would mean that every infected person would, on average, infect approximately 1.7 more people – the consequences of which are almost unimaginable. Thus far, only six cases of the variant have been identified in Ontario, all of them related to travel from Britain. But there are undoubtedly more out there and it is essential to halt their spread. Another variant from South Africa has also been identified but with no cases in Ontario at this moment.

  3. The federal government has tightened international borders against COVID. All passengers boarding a plane to Canada are required to show proof of a negative test taken during the previous 72 hours.

  4. A lack of regular hospital capacity to handle continued case increases has led to the opening of several field hospitals. In London, Ontario, hospital officials brought in a refrigerated trailer to hold bodies after the regional morque reached capacity.

  5. 500 health professionals, scientists and engineers signed a letter calling on governments in Canada to do more to protect against the indoor transmission of COVID through viral aerosols. Canada was late in recognizing that the virus is spread by small droplets that can hang in the air much longer than the larger, heavier droplets through which it was earlier thought that infections occurred. It’s now believed that the virus can be spread by both. The letter calls on governments to provide better communication on this issue, to provide N95 masks in more situations, and to implement new strategies to improve ventilation in places like schools and nursing homes.

  6. In winter, COVID may be more easily transmitted outdoors than it is in the summer, according to epidemiologists. In cold weather, when you can literally “see your breath”, water droplets in that breath evaporate but COVID-carrying particles tend to hang longer in the air. Outdoors is still much safer than indoors but make sure to keep a safe distance and wear a mask when around anyone outside your household.

This crisis will inevitably continue to get worse in the immediate future. By next week, I expect to be reporting on new measures to slow the spread, as we continue to take action several weeks later than we should have.

This week’s news here and in the U.S. had me thinking of my favourite Rolling Stones song. For the studio version (with lyrics) and outstanding vocals by Merry Clayton, click here. To watch a live version of Gimme Shelter, click the link below.

– John