The sixth wave of COVID-19 is beginning to eclipse the Omicron wave on several metrics and the time for provincial action is now, Dr. Mustafa Hirji says.
“We are probably now seeing a level of infection spreading in society that's much closer to where it was back (during the) peak in January,” Hirji, acting medical officer of health for Niagara Region, said during a media briefing on Monday.
When infections were spreading like wildfire just a few months ago, Ontario had a provincewide approach to trying to snuff out COVID through a combination of mask mandates, proof of vaccination requirements and social distancing guidelines.
Those measures have all been lifted but Hirji said it's time to bring them back.
“(That’s) unfortunately not happening right now and there’s no reason to believe that this won’t continue to go up.”
He is open to implementing mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements in the Niagara Region if the province fails to act.
But, “we really want to make sure the focus stays on the province. This is a provincewide issue. It is not a Niagara-specific issue,” Hirji said.
“I think if we act locally and we’re a little island where (safety measures) come back, it’s not going to work as well.”
“There’s not going to be the same buy-in that's needed. There’s a lot of travel in and out of Niagara so people are going to be at risk when they are outside of Niagara. They’re going to be in Niagara and perhaps spreading infection.”
“We're not going to get the full benefit of that mask mandate if it's only Niagara. The focus really needs to be on the province really encouraging and recommending that they do this right now.”
He hopes the province acts soon so Niagara can “start to build off on a more aggressive and assertive provincial plan going forward.”
Hirji pointed out that, based on wastewater data, many regions of Ontario already have a higher concentration of COVID-19 than they did during the highest point of the Omicron wave.
Niagara and the GTA are approaching similar levels but have not reached them yet.
“if we don't act, I suspect we could be seeing something similar to these other regions in a couple of weeks. I don't think it's a surprise to anybody who's been paying attention,” Hirji said.
Hirji said this exact scenario was predictable more than two weeks ago.
“And unfortunately, I think it's pretty predictable that it will continue to get worse,” he said.
Positive infection numbers are now higher than any wave other than Omicron. Hospitalizations have also been rising in tandem.
So far, the increase in ICU admissions has been low but Hirji said there is usually a lag between a hike in infections and hospitalizations and higher ICU numbers.
He said it is certain that, as more people get COVID, more patients will end up in the ICU.
The peak of this wave could come in early May, meaning the province will see increased hospitalizations, infections and deaths for quite a while, Hirji said.
Hospitalizations of children have not increased dramatically but the chief medical officer worries it is only a matter of time.
Once again, mask wearing, social distancing and getting vaccinated are essential to curbing the spread of COVID-19, he emphasized.
“But with nothing being done yet to try and address the increasing infections, I would expect that the hospital numbers and the death numbers will unfortunately continue to worsen for a period of time until at least we hit that peak (in May),” Hirji said.