What Ontario's COVID-19 summer looks like: Province should wait a little longer to reopen to be safe, doctor urges

·4 min read

Ontario's latest COVID-19 modelling data shows that control of the pandemic is "improving" in the province, but the timeline for reopening could see different impacts on control of the pandemic.

"The models suggest that reopening on [June 2] will lead to a rise in cases that will likely subside later in the summer," Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said on Thursday. "Waiting until the middle of June to reopen will likely bring cases down to a very low level and a consistent downward trend throughout the summer."

"Opening schools on the second and nothing else takes us somewhere between these two options. There are all challenging trade offs and none of them are without risk."

OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)
OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)

Looking at projections of future COVID-19 spread, in each of the scenarios there is an assumed reopening date, a partial reopening on June 2 with 130,000 vaccines administered daily or a partial reopening on June 16 with the same number of vaccinations per day. They do not include any additional variants of concern.

A partial reopening on June 2 would see case counts remain around 1,000 per day until about mid-July. Delaying that reopening until June 16 would see case counts start to dip below 1,000 a day beginning-to- mid-June.

"The lower it gets the easier it is to control when things like new variants enter," Dr. Brown said. "There's the payoff of lower cases but there's also the payoff of better preparedness or capacity to respond to new variants."

This "partial reopening" being used in these projections is based on the activities that were allowed in March, before the stay-at-home order, which includes some retail operations, in-person schooling, and outdoor amenities.

OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)
OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)

Dr. Brown stressed that pandemic fatigue is at a "very high level" and while outdoor activities can be much safer, there are rules that help ensure they can in fact be safer.

He spoke about the "two out of three rule" for being outdoors, meaning individuals either need to be outdoors and physically distanced, or outdoors and masked. Dr. Brown said the public still should not be engaging in outdoor activities that include travelling between regions, crowded places, carpooling or shared overnight accommodations with multiple households.

Examples of safer outdoor activities include local camping with your own household, basketball in masks, singles tennis, doubles tennis with masks, or singing outdoors with physical distancing.

OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)
OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)

There are now more health units in Ontario with decreasing case numbers than those with increasing COVID-19 case numbers.

OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)
OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)

Per cent positivity is also down, but Dr. Brown highlighted that testing volumes have also been reduced.

"So we may be missing some cases but when you consider cases being down, positivity being down and hospitalization rate being down, this looks like a real reduction in cases," Dr. Brown said.

OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)
OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)

There has been a decline in ICU occupancy but Dr. Brown noted that these particular projections are "likely optimistic." 

OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)
OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)

He said it's suspected that the decline in ICU occupancy will be less and less steep, with younger people staying longer and a high proportion of patients on life support.

OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)
OntarioCOVID-19 modelling projections (Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table)

As vaccines continue to be administered, the data shows that the hot spot strategy for distribution is working, with Dr. Brown suggesting these efforts should continue as it will likely be "key to a good summer."

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, highlighted that Ontario is moving closer to getting 60 per cent of adults their first shot, while the province is "hopeful" that by the "early part of June" 70 per cent of Ontarians could have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.