But lockdowns may be avoided if enough people are vaccinated, models show
Like the rest of the province, Niagara's cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, largely due to the Delta variant.
But the region's top doctor says it's possible another lockdown could be avoided.
With the province's move to Step 3 of reopening, Dr. Mustafa Hirji said it's no surprise cases are on the upswing.
“We always knew that as we would reopen, we'd take away the lack of interaction between people and once again create the conditions in which infections can spread. Unfortunately it does seem to be a relatively sharp increase and hopefully the sharpness of the increase won't continue.”
About 85 per cent of new cases are the Delta variant, with about 20 per cent confirmed and the other 65 per cent suspected to be Delta.
While Hirji expects the days of low case numbers are likely gone, “unless we, unfortunately, have another lockdown,” he said this time around it's a different landscape.
Compared to our first few waves, “There's lots and lots of people vaccinated,” Hirji said.
“What really forced the lockdowns in the second and third wave particularly was when hospitals started to be overwhelmed.”
He said with people vaccinated — and he urged more to get vaccinated — the health care system might not become overwhelmed again.
So far there hasn't been a major increase in hospitalizations, Hirji said, but noted it's too soon to really tell. Those numbers will likely lag a couple of weeks behind the case data.
“But the good news is we brought hospitalizations very low,” Hirji said. That means health officials need to watch “hospitalizations and ICU admissions and decide if we need to take more drastic action, or perhaps we're going to be able to ride this out with some less-onerous actions, things like ongoing masking, maybe capacity limits.”
Looking at cellphone mobility data, Hirji said it's clear fewer people are staying home.
“People staying home is the lowest it's really been since the start of the pandemic, going all the way back to March of 2020,” he said, adding shopping and recreation is back to pre-pandemic levels.
“And of course if that's why we're seeing the cases go up,” he said.
He said the Public Health Agency of Canada predicts that with safety measures completely lifted, cases will continue to rise until it strains the health care system. However, if more people are vaccinated — at least 75 per cent with two doses — problems are less likely.
Getting 80 per cent of people 18 to 39 vaccinated is a crucial step in that process, Hirji said.
Vaccination numbers continue to rise, with about 10,000 more people having received their first dose in the last two weeks, he said.