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Once again, our primary indicators provide an uncertain picture with respect the state of the pandemic over the past week, which makes it difficult to ascertain whether or not the current COVID seasonal resurgence is peaking.
PCR testing of municipal wastewater serves as the best leading indicator of infection rates. As you can see in this week’s composite chart, Ontario COVID viral counts have continued their steep climb and have already exceeded last December’s peak. Positivity rates for PCR tests among the minority of Ontarians who still qualify also continued to climb. According to the data, Canadian COVID hospitalization rates appeared to have plateaued, as have Ontario’s. That data is unfortunately questionable in terms of identifying current trends since hospitalizations, among other vital statistics such as death rates, are almost always retroactively increased as late-arriving data are incorporated.
The reasonably encouraging news is in the biweekly update from COVID-19 Resources Canada, whose latest forecast of the number of Canadians who are currently infected and therefore infectious, now estimates one in every 41 Ontarians. That constitutes a significant improvement from last week’s one in every 23 people. However, one in 41 continues to make it wise to mask up when entering any crowded indoor public spaces.
Turning to currently-spreading variants, a new one has emerged which is definitely worth watching. Nicknamed “Pirola”, BA.2.86 is the first significant crack in the recent utter dominance of the XBB family of recombinant COVID variants. Looking at the most recent US data (Public Health Canada has yet to published any data on its Canadian prevalence), Pirola has soared almost 18-fold over the past 8 weeks. While now enjoying the third-largest “market share”, unless is rate of increase dramatically slows, it could easily achieve dominance within a matter of weeks. Early sequencing showed that it has 34 more mutations in its spike protein than its BA.2 parent and 36 more mutations than XBB.1.5. It is as yet unclear how easily it can infect people with up-to-date vaccinations and/or recent bouts of XBB, but its incredible growth rate can only be explained by a significant transmissibility advantage.