Data shows 10% increase in people leaving home over past two weeks
Ontario's provincial lockdown is bringing cases down, but not quite as quickly as lockdowns have in the past.
Niagara's chief medical officer, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, said that's likely because variants are playing a major role in the total case count.
“We have more variants around, which spread more easily,” he told a news conference Monday.
Looking at the peak of the third wave compared to last summer's case numbers, Hirji said we're not quite halfway down yet. “It will be a while longer before we get cases quite low.”
However, the trend is positive, with the reproductive number — an estimate of how many additional cases each current case of COVID-19 will generate — being less than one.
“We've got it below one, so over time each case is going to produce fewer than one additional case,” Hirji said.
“That'll cause cases to come down, but it remains higher than what it was, say, in the second lockdown, showing that our lockdown is less effective this time.”
The situation in Niagara is similar to what's happening around the province, Hirji said, with cases falling to about half of the peak numbers in March and April.
“Hopefully, this is going to be a trend that we're able to sustain and actually get our cases to a very low number in the next few weeks.”
The reopening plan depends greatly on the situation at hospitals, Hirji said.
“The number of people needing to be hospitalized is starting to come down relatively rapidly, so that's very good news. Unfortunately with ICU patients, it takes longer. They tend to have a longer stay in hospitals, so it takes longer for that number to start to come down and we can see it's dipped a little bit, but those ICU numbers remain very high,” he said.
“They're definitely far higher than they were during the second wave. And obviously, much higher than we were back when things were going well last summer.”
The number of COVID patients in ICUs in Ontario this week remains well over 700 – much higher than the provincial risk threshold of 150.
He maintains it will be at least mid-June before the numbers could be safe enough to lift restrictions on gatherings and businesses.
“The crisis that we're seeing in hospitals is really part of the big reason we had to go into a lockdown and until we really see those hospitalizations relieved there's probably not going to be the opportunity to safely reopen.”
He added that the provincial ICU numbers didn't come down enough before reopening last time.
“Even between the second lockdown and then the reopening we had in February, March, you can see the number of people in ICU didn't really come down.”
People not following lockdown orders
Meanwhile, Hirji said people are staying home less as the summer gets closer.
He said he's been monitoring mobility data, which shows an estimated 10 per cent decrease in people staying at home since two weeks ago, when people were listening more.
“Over the last couple of weeks we started to see that impact degrade, with people spending less time at home. And if we zero in where they're spending time, a lot of it is in retail and recreation, a lot of it is going on transit,” he said.
The trend is “worrying, particularly if it is in retail or transit or in any sort of indoor recreation because that's going to be high risk for COVID-19 spreading.”
Outdoor settings present less of a risk, he said, but with traffic up, he's concerned that “perhaps there is a bit more, being out and about more than is ideal.”
“And, of course, the more people that are out and about, the less effective a lockdown is going to be and the longer it's going to take to get cases under control.”
He cautioned that people need to continue staying at home.
“That's something we need to reinforce, because the more we are able to stay at home, the more we make this lockdown really count, the faster we'll be able to get out of it and the more aggressively we'll be able to reopen afterwards.”