Ontario reports pandemic high of 10,436 new COVID-19 cases, jump in hospitalizations

·4 min read
People wait in line at a COVID-19 test site in Toronto on Dec. 22, 2021. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)
People wait in line at a COVID-19 test site in Toronto on Dec. 22, 2021. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Ontario reported a new pandemic-high of 10,436 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, slightly topping the previous record set on Christmas Day.

Infectious disease experts have said the actual number of cases is likely far higher than those reported each day because many public health units have reached their testing capacity.

Today's case count is accompanied by a record high test positivity rate. Public Health Ontario logged a 26.9 per cent positivity rate on 59,259 total tests. Monday and Tuesday this week saw rates of 24.5 and 24.9 per cent, respectively.

Another 59,259 test samples are in the queue waiting to be processed.

The seven-day average of daily cases has climbed to 9,183, a sixth consecutive day of new pandemic highs. It is currently on pace to double every five days.

Ontario: New daily cases of COVID-19

The Ministry of Health is also reporting a jump in COVID-related hospitalizations, up to 726 from 491 the previous day and 420 last Wednesday.

There are 190 patients being treated for COVID-related illnesses in intensive care units, compared to 168 at the same time last week.

The health ministry also recorded the deaths of three more people with the illness, pushing the official toll to 10,171.

COVID-19 uptick spotted weeks in advance, in wastewater

Eric Arts, a professor at Western's Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry has been monitoring for traces of COVID-19 in wastewater across Ontario with the help of the province and Health Canada and says he saw a major uptick in Omicron cases more than two weeks ago.

"It's hard to estimate, but let's say it's about twice as high in the wastewater estimated cases than it is in the actual diagnosed cases," Arts told CBC Toronto.

"So in all likelihood, we're looking at maybe three times more, if not more than that, than what we're actually seeing in case diagnosis."

COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals and ICUs

In a study of more than 6,000 Omicron cases, Public Health Ontario found the risk of hospitalization or death was 54 per cent lower for Omicron cases in comparison to Delta cases.

"This study has some limitations, in particular the short follow-up duration and potential misclassification due to incidental findings from hospital admissions screening, or incomplete public health follow-up as incidence increased," the study noted.

"However, Omicron appears to be the first dominant variant to demonstrate a decline in disease severity. While severity may be reduced, due to the transmissibility of Omicron, the absolute number of hospitalizations and impact on the health-care system is likely to be significant."

Infectious disease physician Dr. Zain Chagla said he would not be surprised if COVID-19 cases are upwards of 100,000 in Ontario, because many public health units have reached their testing capacity.

But he says the biggest concern at this time is the number of Ontarians requiring ICUs across the province.

"ICU capacity is probably our biggest choke point more than anything else," he said. "To get above five (hundred) or 600 beds right now is probably going to be very challenging."

Chagla says the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is also hard to read as some patients are there due to the illness while others are there for other medical reasons.

"Being able to pull out who needs to be actually hospitalized for the COVID-19 versus who needs to be hospitalized and has COVID 19 is also starting to get tricky," he said.

"There are patients that have COVID-19 that are being hospitalized, that are being managed for the COVID-19. These are patients that need oxygen, that need medical therapy," he said.

"But there are also patients, as many hospitals are now testing every patient coming in the door, that are there for giving birth, that have an ankle fracture, that have many other medical issues that are testing positive for COVID-19, where their reason for being cause in hospital is nothing to do with COVID-19, and they're mild or asymptomatic from it."

In response to those concerns, a government official said the ministry has called on hospitals to identify those patients in their reporting.

"Many have pointed out importance of distinguishing between patients in hospital/ICU for COVID-19 versus those admitted for other reasons but test positive," said the premier's Deputy Chief of Staff Travis Kann, in a tweet.

"We've asked hospitals to update daily reporting to include this important info. We expect to begin receiving it in the coming days."

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