Sun. Jan 23rd, 2022

Paramedics drive a patient past ambulances outside a Toronto hospital in early January 2022. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, told a virtual press conference on Friday, January 14, that the peak of the Omicron wave may be in sight, although modeling suggests hospitalizations will still increase.Chris Young / The Canadian Press

Canada may approach the peak of the Omicron wave of COVID-19 as the number of cases stabilizes in the most populous provinces, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said on Friday, but warned that hospital admissions will continue to grow .

Dr. Tam told a virtual press conference that the peak of the wave was in sight, but there is still considerable uncertainty about when cases and hospitalizations will begin to decline.

“I think that a number of provinces, the largest, which have experienced the increase in particular at the earliest, are experiencing some stabilization at a very high level, but some stabilization in the daily cases,” said Dr. Tame.

“I think it’s the early signal that we can approach that peak.”

In BC on Friday, health officials gave a similar message, saying the wave in cases seems to have reached its peak, but the same cannot yet be said about hospitals.

Dr. Tam made the comments when the Public Health Agency of Canada released its latest modeling of the COVID-19 disease course. The modeling underscores the massive increase in the total number of cases, but confirms that Omicron is likely to be less severe than previous variants of the virus. Despite this, the large number of cases drives hospitalizations, puts pressure on healthcare and will make even the disadvantage of the Omicron wave difficult.

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Several weeks of “very intense” disease activity still await, the agency warned in the modeling.

Because the test capacity has fallen below the number of cases, the National Board of Public Health had to estimate the number. The modeling shows that with the current public health measures, the daily number of cases can peak at between 100,000 and 250,000 a day across the country.

The modeling shows that Canada as a whole is likely to hit or will soon reach the top in the number of cases, and hospitalizations will peak shortly after. But Dr. Tam said the models are uncertain and that the public health agency will have a better understanding of the wave’s trajectory in a week.

“There is a gray area or a zone of uncertainty” in the projections and the actual case trends, said Dr. Tame. “It is very possible that in the next few days we will see that peak, at least in the cases.”

Dr. Tam said the course of events could be in line with the experience of other countries: “a sharp, sharp increase, and then it drops pretty fast.”

“But I think we all just want to be a little careful about speaking out about it until we’ve seen more information,” she said.

The modeling released by the federal agency also shows that the national test positivity rate has peaked, but at a very high number. Currently, 28 percent of laboratory tests – more than one in four – return positive for the virus.

On Thursday, Ontario and Quebec said they may be approaching the peak of hospital admissions in the Omicron-driven wave of the pandemic, bringing some hope for relief to the health care system and a chance to start easing restrictions as early as next week.

BC Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said Friday that community transfer appears to have peaked, but the next two weeks will be challenging for hospitals.

“At least in terms of transmission in the community, we’ve reached the top and we’re starting on the downward trajectory,” said Dr. Henry at a press conference. According to the latest modeling, BC’s public health office estimates that hospital admissions are likely to reach its highest point on January 21, and it will take another week before the number of patients in the hospital falls.

The model is based on limited data because British Columbia’s testing capacity reached its limit in December, and people who are not considered high-risk are asked to simply isolate themselves if they have COVID-19 symptoms. Dr. Henry said, however, that she trusts the projections because monitoring wastewater – which tests for concentrations of the virus – has confirmed the same pattern of decline.

While the surge driven by the Omicron variant has led to a record number of COVID-19 cases in BC, patients typically have shorter hospital stays than those infected with the Delta variant, she noted. But the challenges at BC hospitals are still acute because more healthcare professionals are on sick leave.

“The next few weeks will be the most challenging yet in our healthcare system,” she said. The provincial government canceled non-urgent operations from last week to ease the pressure on hospitals, and is scouting for locations for a field hospital in downtown Vancouver in the event that the number of beds does not live up to demand.

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