New modelling data on the COVID-19 situation in Ontario shows that Toronto, Peel and York Region are "starting to trend in the wrong direction again," Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said on Thursday.
"Variants of concern such as B.1.1.7 continue to spread across Ontario," the information presented by Dr. Brown reads. "Cases, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions will likely soon increase."
COVID-19 variants of concern grew from about five per cent to around 20 per cent in a month. They are expected to make up about 40 per cent of all cases by the second week of March.
Dr. Brown stressed that the next couple of weeks are "critical" to control the spread of the variants and advised that public health measures should only be loosened "very carefully."
He added that a U.K.-type scenario where COVID-19 cases triple in about a month is “not necessarily off the table.”
"What we're seeing right now and as we're starting to see in other jurisdictions that have maintained public health measures, it's a slower spread, a slower increase in the percentage of cases that are the variants of concern, but they do eventually turn the tide in virtually every jurisdiction that we can actually see with data right now," Dr. Brown said.
The co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table identified that these variants of concern are creating a "great amount of uncertainty" around estimating what the province's future case growth will look like.
While concerns around COVID-19 variants persist, Dr. Brown highlighted that Ontarians could see a summer that is "more open" than 2020 but "isolated flare ups" are not unexpected. A core challenge will be managing the spread of variants of concern.
Ontario's latest mobility data shows that the province is still seeing a low level of mobility but again, mobility needs to be adjusted to account for these more transmissible variants.
COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care homes have declined. Dr. Brown highlighted that this occurred as there was a reduction of COVID-19 spread in the community, in addition to COVID-19 vaccines being administered in these settings.
"Evidence-based approaches to key public health measures, such as focusing vaccination where it has the biggest impact on deaths and hospitalizations, are key to controlling the impact of the pandemic," the information from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table reads.