New cases of coronavirus in the community appear to have peaked and are declining.
This seems like a reason to celebrate, but we have a long way to go in this pandemic before things return to everyday life, warn public health experts.
“I am extremely concerned about this next phase and transition,” said Saverio Stranges, president of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University.
“I don’t think this phase means we should go back to normal routine. This means that we will have to respect physical distance even if we are really trying to return to normal life. “
There are still many unknowns about the new coronavirus, said Stranges, including how humidity and temperature affect its spread.
And there are still no rapid and widespread trials in Canada, no definite treatment, no vaccine, and questions about asymptomatic transmission of the virus.
“I would be extremely careful,” said Stranges. “We have to think differently. . . . Before we really get back to normal routine, I think there will be a transition phase where we have to implement physical distance as much as possible, even if we decide to reopen restaurants or workplaces. “
The province is expected to announce its plan to reopen the closed economy early next week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Friday.
The Middlesex-London health unit reported 10 new cases on Friday, with the latest evidence suggesting that the growth of new cases in the region is slowing considerably. On Thursday, he added four new cases and two new deaths.
“These figures continue the downward trend we have seen for several days,” chief medical officer Chris Mackie said on Wednesday when the region reported nine new cases and one additional death.
“Illness levels continue at relatively high rates and physical distance and the closure of non-essential businesses are still important in bringing these disease rates down.”
The London area health unit has 357 cases of COVID-19 and 26 deaths from the virus. Ninety-six cases and 12 deaths are related to retirement or long-term care homes.
Although the data suggest that the London area has reached or even exceeded its COVID-19 peak in terms of community spread of the virus, Mackie said the city can expect a “long, slow burn” during let it descend the peak of the after-peak slope of the pandemic curve.
“It is not an epidemic that disappears overnight. This is something that will be with us in the coming weeks, “he said on Wednesday.
“We absolutely must remain vigilant, continue to practice these methods of distancing and respect public health measures as much as possible. If we are able to do so, it will be in a few weeks that we can say that this pandemic wave is really behind us. “
With the spread of the community so far, avoiding the level of COVID-19 crisis seen in places like New York, the health unit and the province are now focusing their attention and resources on long-term care, retirement homes and other community settings.
The London area COVID-19 toll reflects provincial forecasts of the pandemic virus’s trajectory in Ontario.
Projections released by the province this week indicate that the community spread of COVID-19 appears to have peaked and is being brought under control. But the spread of the virus in long-term care facilities and other community settings still seems to be increasing.
The total number of cases in the province is expected to reach 20,000 by the end of this first wave of COVID-19.
The province reported 640 new cases on Friday, a 5% increase from the previous day, as authorities quickly accelerate testing and responding to COVID-19 in the hard-hit long-term care sector.
“This is highly anticipated given that there is now very strong pressure to test as many people as possible,” said Mackie on Friday.
Ontario’s assistant medical officer of health, Barabara Yaffe, said Friday that of 640 new cases, about 259 involved long-term care residents.
The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 at the London Health Science Center has remained relatively stable since early April. The daily number of people in intensive care or intensive care beds on both LHSC campuses has increased from 8 to 12 since April 2.
The total number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 at the LHSC peaked at 33 on Thursday, after two weeks of daily admissions ranging from 23 to 28.
As of Friday, the LHSC had 32 people at the hospital, including 11 in intensive care or intensive care beds in its two hospitals.
The LHSC, together with Ontario hospitals, has canceled all non-emergency procedures to free up capacity for an expected flare-up of critically ill COVID-19 patients. The hospital, the largest in southwestern Ontario, has tripled its number of intensive care beds and ventilators to 184 in anticipation of a coronavirus outbreak.
Data from intensive care units, both provincial and local, are an important indicator of the impact of COVID-19 on the population, said Stranges.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is independent of other factors, including the number of tests performed in the general population.
“These are perhaps the most objective data we have, alongside the mortality data unfortunately,” said Stranges. “The fact that our intensive care beds are not fully occupied is a good indicator that the spread in the community is relatively limited. We do not have a large pool of infected individuals, which (would increase) the relatively smaller pool of people requiring hospitalization. “
Although a return to the pre-pandemic lifestyle is not an imminent possibility, said Stranges, people need to understand that their actions helped Ontario avoid the dire consequences of COVID-19 than other places have known.
“People assume that this (the flattening of the curve) happens naturally, but it happens because of the physical distance,” he said. “Without physical distancing, we would be talking in very different terms about the impact of this pandemic on our communities.”