Ontario has entered a summer wave of COVID-19 as hospitalizations and wastewater data slowly creep upwards, infectious diseases experts say.
“We’re in one. It’s the real deal. I don't know how big it’s going to get, but it’s here,” Toronto infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV News Toronto on Monday.
Bogoch points to COVID-19 wastewater data as a central indicator. Throughout June, this data has been ticking upward. It follows a steep drop in viral activity discovered in Ontario wastewater through most of the spring.
Along with wastewater, Bogoch points to an increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19. While testing is limited, the seven-day average for new cases detected through PCR testing was up 34 per cent week-over-week in the province’s most recent data.
“That's been a very reliable indicator, even though we're not testing broadly,” Bogoch said. “We're at least testing consistently.”
He said that hospitalizations, which are a lagging indicator of COVID-19’s spread, are also seeing an increase. The latest data from the government said there are 585 people in Ontario hospitals testing positive for the virus, up from 486 a week earlier.
“This is largely driven by the BA.5 sublineage of Omicron. We know that it's probably the dominant variant right now in most of Canada. And it has the ability to wriggle through some of the protective immunity that we would get from vaccination or recovery from infection,” he said.
Back in May, Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, predicted a "low level of endemic activity" throughout the summer followed by higher transmission in the fall due to an increase of indoor activities. But since then, BA.5 – the subvariant with the fastest growth rate – has rapidly spread in Ontario.
Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases specialist in Mississauga, said while BA. 5 has largely taken hold of the country, the timing of this wave is worth noting.
“In the summertime, the health-care system is much better equipped to deal with this and absorb it,” he said.
Compared to the Omicron wave in December, Chakrabarti said he doesn’t expect to see that same magnitude.
“We just have to remember the nature of respiratory viruses, especially when they become a tad more transmissible and they become more immune evasive. There is an equilibrium that forms between the community and the virus and you see this wave activity,” Chakrabarti explained.
“This wave is going to be a different one and it’s not the same kind of intensity as the previous ones were.”
When speaking to CP24 on Monday afternoon, the scientific director for Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, did not confirm Ontario was specifically in another wave of the pandemic, saying only that "the virus has proven to be a really terrible adversary."
"It has mutated to the extent that what is currently circulating now in Ontario, in Canada, and the world is almost unrecognizable compared to what we originally saw," Dr. Fahad Razak said. "What happens in the future, it's really unclear."
"The fall will be a high-risk period for us though, because it's not just COVID. It's the other respiratory viruses like influenza, RSV, so we need to be aware of that," he said.
Razak urged residents to continue to get their COVID-19 vaccine in order to better protect themselves from the virus.