While the official statistical indicators shown in our weekly composite chart provide somewhat mixed messages with respect to whether the current seasonal COVID pandemic surge is continuing to worsen or stabilizing at a high new-infection levels, the weight of evidence points to the former. Governments have been increasingly tardy in their reporting and their most recent data are consistently revised upwards in subsequent weeks. That tendency has worsened with the beginning of the holiday season, to the point that we can’t expect much in the way of official reporting until well into January. 

PCR testing of municipal wastewater remains the most reliable indicator of infection rates. As you can see in the chart, Ontario COVID viral counts are continuing to soar and are now at by far their highest levels in all of 2023. PCR COVID test positivity among the minority of those still eligible, hospitalizations and ICU admissions appear from the official data to have stabilized at high levels, but that could be attributable to less reporting. The vast majority of people now being infected never appear in the statistics. 

The biweekly forecast from COVID-19 Resources Canada is consistent with the wastewater testing data, estimating that an estimated one in every 13 Ontarians are currently COVID-infected. Given that the majority of people tend to stay home at least during their worst symptoms, that suggests that perhaps one in every 25 of the people with whom we come into close contact may be infectious. It would be unfair to state that it is foolish to go into stores and other indoor public spaces without the protection of a well-fitting N95 mask, but only because our governments for whatever bizarre political reason have chosen not to publicly share meaningful risk information, leaving their citizens dangerously uninformed during this holiday season when close indoor contacts are typically at the most frequent of the entire year. 

The US CDC reports that JN.1, the newest non-XBB COVID variant, has already achieved dominance with a “market share” of more than 44% of all new US infections. Its prevalence is more than 13 times what it was only eight weeks ago. Whereas various XBB lineages accounted for essentially all new cases for most of this year, JN.1 is a much-mutated progeny of BA.2.86. Much of our current “herd immunity” is based on XBB-formulated vaccine boosters as well as previous XBB bouts over the past year.  JN.1’s mutations convey the competitive advantage that will likely enable it to continue to outcompete all of the current zoo of other variants by better evading the immunity which most of us have developed through some combination of vaccination and prior infection. Fortunately, most of those being infected continue to experience relatively moderate symptoms.