TORONTO — New projections suggest the growth of the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing in Ontario even though cases remain on the rise, health officials said Thursday as they warned the situation could quickly worsen again.
The latest modelling shows the province appears to be moving away from the worst-case scenario as the second wave continues to take hold, and is expected to settle into a range of 800 to 1,200 new daily cases for the next several weeks, the panel of health officials said.
"Most indicators are showing slow in growth in COVID-19 cases, the trajectory appears to be moving away from the worst case, but cases are continuing to climb," said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, one of the people behind the analysis.
"So this is not that we have crested and are now coming back down the other side of the epidemic curve -- we're just getting to a slower period of growth within that curve," said Brown, who is the dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
The projections also show a slower growth in the hospitalization rate and a use of intensive care beds that is "much more within the realm or the limits of the health system right now," he said.
Of the three projected scenarios, only the worst involves ICU use at a level that would push the health system to limit surgeries, he said.
However, Brown said, things can change quickly, particularly in light of so-called "superspreader events," he said. Officials pointed to two large outbreaks related to weddings.
Continuing to adopt targeted measures that account for regional variations will be important in trying to contain the spread of the virus, the health officials said.
Earlier Thursday, Premier Doug Ford stressed the need for a "surgical approach" to the pandemic.
He described the latest projections as "good news" but warned residents not to ease up on public health measures such as physical distancing.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the new projections are not good news and will not provide comfort to Ontario residents.
"Doug Ford continues to talk in a way that's confusing, that's inconsistent, and incoherent," he said. "I think that's, that's causing additional concern."
Del Duca said the government could have avoided case-count increases if they have done more during the summer ahead of the second wave.
"Doug Ford never had a plan to deal with wave two and he always knew was coming," he said. "This is completely inexcusable."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the new projections reveal that Ontario still faces serious challenges as it battles the virus.
"I’m disappointed at the unhelpful mixed messages from Doug Ford, who yesterday said he was happy about the good numbers on the way," she said.
Horwath said the figures underscore the need to follow public health advice.
"I know everyone’s feeling fatigued, but it’s important that the people of Ontario keep doing our part," she said.
Previous projections, released late last month, showed the province recording 1,000 new daily cases by mid-October.
Ontario passed that threshold last weekend but the numbers dropped to the 800 range earlier this week, before rising again Thursday.
The province reported 934 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and 10 new deaths due to the virus. Health Minister Christine Elliott said 420 cases were in Toronto, 169 in Peel Region, 95 in York Region and 62 in Ottawa.
The data released Thursday showed substantial differences between public health units in terms of new cases per 100,000 population, per cent positivity and the ability to obtain test results within two days, as well as in the proportion of cases that can't be linked to a specific source.
"This is important because it's a measure of the resilience or the public health capacity at this point," Brown said.
While COVID-19 growth has slowed overall, it has become "much sharper" in long-term care homes, a sector with the greatest vulnerability and the greatest consequences for infection, the doctor said.
Reported deaths in long-term care have also risen sharply, he said.
Between Aug. 15 and Oct. 9, the province recorded 25 deaths in long-term care, he said. In comparison, there were 27 deaths reported in long-term care in the last week alone, he said.
The document said 87 homes are currently experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.
The province said it has conducted 35,621 tests since the last daily report, and has a backlog of 40,074.
In total, as of Thursday, 322 people are hospitalized in Ontario due to COVID-19, including 77 in intensive care.
The province also reported 99 new COVID-19 cases related to schools, including at least 55 among students. Those bring the number of schools with a reported case to 581 out of Ontario's 4,828 publicly funded schools.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2020.
Paola Loriggio and Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press