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The latest data suggest that, while the seasonal surge of new COVID infections which began in August appears to have started to plateau, our actual risk of infection continues to worsen. As illustrated by our composite chart, COVID viral counts from PCR testing of municipal wastewater are now at their highest level since late-January, and continue to rise. Considering that most Canadians have suffered at least one bout of COVID in the intervening months, that is worrisome considering how few of us take any meaningful precautions against reinfection. The wastewater signal is supported by equally high positivity rates among the minority of Ontarians still eligible for definitive PCR tests and by continuing high COVID hospitalizations and ICU occupancy across Canada. COVID death rates, which always lag the other vital statistics are at their highest since late February.
Turning to the currently most useful metric for managing our personal risk of contracting COVID, the number of infectious people we might encounter in any given day, COVID-19 Resources Canada’s current two-week forecast has worsened to a dismaying one in every 17 Ontarians. The statistical basis for their estimate is: wastewater virus counts and PCR infection rates being 25 times higher than at the pandemic’s lowest point); Long COVID cases 19 times higher; COVID hospitalizations and ICU occupancy 13 times higher, and deaths 25 times higher. Our actual risk of close contact with an infected person in indoor spaces would be somewhat less than that because many infected people will test themselves once they become sufficiently symptomatic and stay home, but few now wait the recommended 10 days. Even if our actual risk is half that number (e.g., one in 34), that suggests that choosing to shop in a crowded supermarket without the simple and relatively cheap protection of a well-fitting N95 mask is downright foolish.
The latest Canadian data on circulating COVID variants (to November 4) tracks the relative “market shares” of the 25 most prevalent strains, all of which stem from XBB recombinant Omicron family which first emerged late last year. The EG.5 family of subvariants which appeared in February is now dominant in Canada, accounting for 65% of new infections. It has already differentiated into some 50 identified strains, some of which are outcompeting the original EG.5 by virtue of being better able to bypass waning Canadian immunity from past vaccinations and COVID bouts. The currently-most-successful EG.5 strain is HV.1, which now accounts for 34% of new Canadian COVID infections.