There will be more than 200 COVID-19 patients in intensive care in Ontario hospitals for the next month in even the best case scenario and the number could cross 500 if public health restrictions are relaxed, new modelling released by the Ford government suggests.

The modelling looked at four different paths that the province could take depending on the growth in cases between now and early January.

It suggests that if infections grow at a rate of three per cent over the next month, which is a slightly accelerated pace compared to the 2.47 per cent growth rate we have seen over the last 14 days, we would end up with roughly 5,000 daily cases and nearly 400 people in the ICU by Jan. 8.

But it says that if the rate of growth were to slow to one per cent we would only have about 2,500 daily cases and under 300 people in the ICU by then.

The worst case scenario, which is based on the five per cent growth rate that Ontario briefly saw in November prior to lockdowns being put in place in Toronto and Peel, points to nearly 10,000 daily cases by early January with more than 500 COVID-19 patients in the ICU.

As of this morning, there were 228 patients in Ontario ICUs suffering from COVID-19 and the rolling seven-day average of new cases stood at 1,862.

“This not evenly distributed across the province. This is not a few beds in every hospital. This is heavily concentrated in Peel and Toronto and when ICUs become heavily affected by COVID like this you really do start to see interruption in service, including necessary and emergency service,” Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, the Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and co-chair of Ontario's COVID-19 science table, warned during a press conference on Thursday afternoon. “So we are over the threshold at which we believe we have to start cancelling and delaying elective surgery and we are now into that threshold, particularly in a number of communities, where important care is being delayed.”

25 daily deaths by later this month

While the growth in cases has slowed since earlier in November when the modelling suggested that we could be at 3,500 to 6,500 daily cases by this point, it has not yet plateaued.

Hospitalizations and deaths also continue to increase at an alarming level.

The new modelling released on Thursday points out that over the last month the number of COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals has risen by 91 per cent while the number of patients in intensive care is up nearly 166 per cent.

It says that even if case growth were to freeze, there would still be nearly 250 COVID-19 patients in the ICU for the better part of the next month. That number is precariously close to the first wave peak of 264 COVID-19 patients in the ICU, which came at a time when hospitals were suspending all elective surgeries and procedures en masse.

Meanwhile, the modelling suggests that the most likely scenario will see Ontario record more than 25 daily deaths due to COVID-19 by the end of the month. It is a far cry from the more than 80 daily deaths that the province was reporting in April when the virus was running rampant through long-term care homes but nonetheless represents a jarring increase.

“25 deaths may seem like a small number per day but it is significant enough to put it among the most important causes of deaths in the province on a daily basis,” Brown said.

Lockdown may not have been as effective as it was in the spring

Brown said that the latest modelling shows a “little bit of a softening of the slope which may reflect an early impact from the accumulation of restrictions” in Toronto and Peel, most notably the lockdown orders that went into effect on Nov. 23.

But he said that mobility data has shown that the lockdowns have not been as effective as they were in the spring in limiting the movements of Ontarians.

In April anonymous data showed that nearly 80 per cent of mobile devices in Toronto stayed at home throughout the day but that number is now down to about 60 per cent.

“We are nowhere what we did during the first wave and I can tell you that when I am required to drive on the highways and things like that the traffic load is very similar to what it was in non-COVID season so there are a lot of people on the move and we have to get that down and limit that somehow,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said during Thursday’s news conference. “We are at a very precarious stage here and we have to really watch this carefully if we are not going to have to close some things further. We are bending the curve a bit, the data shows we are slowing the rate of increase but we have to do better than that.”

'No one exempt' from stopping spread: health-care workers

Responding to the latest modelling in a joint statement released Thursday afternoon, the heads of some of the leading medical and health-care organizations in the province released a statement called for for tougher government restrictions and for every citizen to do their part.

“It's the government’s responsibility to put in place strong public health measures we know can prevent and control the spread of the virus. And, now more than ever, every Ontarian has a moral responsibility to strictly adhere to these important measures,” the statement reads.

The letter pointed to “potentially devastating consequences for patients” in hospitals across Ontario if emergency rooms and ICU’s are full and was signed by the heads of the Ontario Hospital Association, the Registered Nurses Association Of Ontario, The Ontario Medical Association, the Registered Practical Nurses Association Of Ontario, and the Respiratory Therapy Society Of Ontario.

The letter also pointed out that no one is unaffected by COVID-19 and nobody should feel exempt from doing their part.

"We know that fatigue with public health restrictions has set in, and that it is particularly painful to cancel traditional family gatherings – but this sacrifice pales in comparison to the pain of losing a loved one or watching them suffer. While seniors and other vulnerable populations are at greatest risk from COVID-19, we have also seen serious health consequences and deaths among younger people, and we appeal to them to follow public health guidelines and thank those that are doing the right thing.”