The fourth wave of COVID-19 is poised to crash over Haldimand-Norfolk, according to modelling announced Monday by the local health unit.
The region added 30 new cases over the past week, which epidemiologist Kate Bishop-Williams called “a stark increase” when compared to recent weeks of 10 or 11 new cases.
If the spread of the Delta variant continues at its current pace and no new public health restrictions are mandated, Bishop-Williams said the region could see 30 to 40 new cases per day come September, with the daily case count doubling every 13 days.
The spread of the virus is likely to increase once kids go back to school and companies require their workforces to return to the office, along with cooler weather driving get-togethers indoors again, said interim medical officer of health Dr. Alex Hukowich.
“I see things getting worse rather than getting better,” he said.
Bishop-Williams cautioned there are “a large number of unknowns” when projecting the fourth wave, which makes predicting hospitalization and death rates difficult.
But in a worst-case scenario, she said the virus could spread among the unvaccinated population and drive up cases to “more than 100 per day” by early October.
Bishop-Williams said the “vast majority” of current new cases are among unvaccinated residents, with about six per cent of COVID-19 patients now requiring hospitalization — a much higher rate than seen with the original strain of the virus.
Three per cent of new cases are “breakthrough” infections in fully vaccinated residents, which are “typically entirely asymptomatic,” she added.
“Unvaccinated cases will be the vast majority of hospitalizations,” Bishop-Williams said.
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 remains the best way to avoid serious injury and death and keep the virus from spreading, Hukowich said.
But that message is not reaching a large segment of the population in Haldimand-Norfolk, where just 68.7 per cent of residents over 12 years old are fully vaccinated.
Haldimand-Norfolk is the only health unit in Ontario to have not reached the 70 per cent threshold in this category. That means roughly 25,000 people who are eligible to be immunized have so far chosen not to get the shot.
“They remain at risk,” Hukowich said, pointing out the “dismal” rate of vaccination among youth aged 12 to 17, half of whom are entirely unvaccinated and about to head back to class.
Some residents who have not been vaccinated are a “hard-core proportion of the population” who “have had every opportunity to be immunized” but cannot be convinced of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, Hukowich said.
Others may be open to the idea but still have questions about the vaccine. Bishop-Williams invites residents to call the health unit’s COVID-19 hotline or their family doctor to talk with health-care professionals.
The health unit plans to host Q-and-A sessions on social media to reach vaccine-hesitant residents in real time, said vaccine task force lead Sarah Page.
“There may be people out there that just want their questions answered immediately by someone they trust in the community,” she said.
In the meantime, walk-in vaccine appointments are available at all pop-up clinics and Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe.
“Basically we just keep sticking to our message that vaccines are safe, they’re effective, and they’re the only thing that’s going to protect you from this virus, in addition to the health-care measure that are out there,” she said.
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator