Has Omicron peaked in Toronto? City's top health official says there is reason for 'cautious optimism'
Published Thursday, January 20, 2022 4:15PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 20, 2022 4:15PM EST
Several public health indicators are now suggesting that the spread of the Omicron variant in Toronto may have already peaked but the city’s top doctor is warning that the strain on the healthcare system is likely to continue into February.
Toronto’s rolling seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has dropped by 23 per cent over the last week and now stands at 1,414.
The number only captures a portion of COVID-19 cases because of the limited eligibility for PCR testing but when taken in concert with other indicators, including wastewater data and a drop in the positivity rate, it may point to an Omicron-fuelled fourth wave that is beginning to recede.
At least that is the suggestion that was made by Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa during a briefing at city hall on Thursday morning.
“All of these COVID-19 indicators, our seven-day moving average, test positivity and wastewater surveillance, are high. But there are decreases that provide reasons for cautious optimism,” she said.
“While these are encouraging developments, it is still too early to confirm whether the Omicron wave has peaked. The experience of other jurisdictions suggests that this will occur sometime in January.
Toronto saw a rapid rise in case counts as the Omicron variant took hold in December, however the metric became less useful once the province significantly scaled back the eligibility for free PCR testing at the end of Dec. 2021.
In its place, public health officials have increasingly been turning to wastewater surveillance to get an idea of the overall level of infection in a given community and De Villa said that data is pointing to “a potential plateau or even a slight decline in virus activity detected in Toronto.”
“As additional data become available in the coming week I expect we will have a clearer picture,” she said. “For now we must remain vigilant. Since Tuesday hospitalizations, ICU admissions and outbreaks have risen and healthcare system capacity remains strained. We can expect this trend to continue into February, even after cases peak and we need to continue to do all that we can to preserve our health system's capacity during this very challenging time.”
Major vaccine push planned for this weekend
De Villa’s comments on Thursday come ahead of a weekend vaccine push dubbed “Vax The Northwest” scheduled for York University’s Aviva Centre on Sunday.
The city has said that in order to promote the clinic they will be sending 8,000 text messages to residents 50 and up who live nearby and are due for their third dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The city has also said that it will be partnering with the TTC to have 15 dedicated buses running between the clinic and 11 different community hubs.
“Any time you have a campaign of any kind the first part goes a little more easy and it is sort of a build it and they will come but as you get to the latter stages of any campaign it gets harder and there are sometimes reasons that are just human nature and there are other times reasons that have to do with accessibility or hesitancy,” Mayor John Tory said during Thursday’s briefing. “That is why we are using every tool in our toolbox. And not just communications tools like texts but also the community ambassadors who quite literally go to the doors of people and are in a position where they can explain and reassure people with respect to the vaccinations.”