Ontario’s early Omicron epicenter a glimpse of the future

Like Kingston’s early experiences with Omicron warned Ontario about what a wave driven by this variant might look like, the head of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table now points to the city as an example to follow when it comes to controlling – but not eliminating – its spread.

There is no indication that cases of Omicron are falling in the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health regions, with another record number of active cases noted on Thursday.

But the pace of virus spread in the region hard hit by Omicron has appeared to be stable, and one expert says that is what we should now aim for.

Between December 2 and December 19, COVID-19 cases in Kingston increased markedly by 520 cases per year. 100,000 inhabitants. Since then, the cases per. 100,000 gone up and down with a maximum of 100 cases per. 100,000 inhabitants.

Peter Jüni, scientific director of the scientific advice table, hopes that Kingston smooths the Omicron curve and that it can mean that other jurisdictions can do the same.

“I think this is true stabilization based on people’s behavior,” he said. “High-level case stabilization is within reach.”

Dr.  Peter Juni is the head of Ontario's COVID-19 science table.

It’s top-of-mind for many as Ontario enters a new year with record-breaking COVID-19 cases, as well as rising virus-related deaths and hospitalizations.

Public health officials in Ontario reported 18,445 new cases Saturday, noting that number was an underestimation due to changes in the availability of tests.

The number exceeds Friday’s record high number of 16,713 new diagnoses. Twelve deaths as a result of COVID-19 were also recorded on Saturday.

Jüni said there are many reasons to think differently about our current wave powered by Omicron than previous pandemic waves. By and large, he is encouraged by data showing that people receiving Omicron are less likely to end up in the hospital or intensive care unit, and that this is especially the case for vaccinated people.

A milder form of COVID-19 that infects large sections of the population may even increase the level of community immunity in Ontario in the long run.

“When we’m done with this, things will get easier because almost all of us will have had some form of immunity,” Jüni said.

But even with a milder disease, the highly transmissible Omicron variant can still overwhelm the healthcare system.

“It’s a numbers game,” he said. “If you have a quarter of the risk of ending up in the intensive care unit, just use four times the number of cases” before the hospital system is as full as it was during the Delta wave.

At the same time, Jüni said it would be useless to try to suppress Omicron case numbers.

“It would be irrational to try to suppress this wave to close to zero, because the moment we relieve (restrictions), things would just go up again,” he said.

So the goal, he said, should be to aim to see it spread like Kingston. This means recognizing that people will transmit the virus to each other while avoiding the worst levels of exponential growth.

He points out that the Kingston region appears to have experienced a sharp drop in contacts as a potential model to follow.

Mobility data – measurements of how much people move around the community that have been used by epidemiologists as a proxy for how much contact people have – show that the Kingston region reduced its contacts significantly from mid-December. That means fewer trips to the gym, restaurants and other people’s homes.

The general pattern for Ontario also shows a decline in mobility, but it started later, around December 20th.

It is likely that the reduction in contacts was due to a combination of factors, including the cancellation of university students’ personal exams, and public health rules imposing capacity limits in the social and public environment in the region concerned.

Ontario has also introduced a limit of 10 people at private social gatherings and has said that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms such as fever or chills should be isolated (five days for vaccinated people and 10 days for unvaccinated people).

Before the Omicron wave, Kingston was widely regarded a leader in keeping COVID-19 at bay. Dr. Kieran Moore was the region’s health worker before he was promoted to the top medical job for Ontario.

With files from The Canadian Press

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