COVID developments over the past week have been moderately disappointing. As of our last blog, the main statistical indicators suggested that the current surge in new infections was pulling back slightly from its peak. Instead, as you can see from our composite chart, the indicators have returned to or modestly exceeded those peaks. Ontario wastewater viral counts are at their highest since January. Positivity rates for Ontarians still eligible for definitive PCR testing remain above 30%. COVID-related hospitalizations and ICU occupancy are running at their highest level since February (the Canada-wide graph is substituted because Ontario hasn’t been publishing its ICU data).  Canadian COVID deaths are likewise the highest since March. 

The most practically useful metric for managing our personal risk of contracting COVID is quite obviously the number of infectious people we might encounter in any given day. While, for whatever bizarre political reason, no Canadian governments are publishing those estimates, COVID-19 Resources Canada is filling that gap. Their most recent forecast, for October 21 through November 3, is that one in 23 Ontarians are currently infected. Their key indicators are wastewater virus counts and PCR infection rates (17.5 times higher than at the pandemic’s lowest point), estimated Long COVID cases (12.8 times higher), COVID hospitalizations and ICU occupancy (10.9 times higher) and deaths (20.3 times higher). Our actual risk of close contact with an infected person should we choose to enter crowded indoor spaces unmasked is likely to be somewhat less than one in every 23 given that, once unmistakable symptoms have fully manifested several days after infection, most but not all infected people would tend to remain home at least until they had mostly recovered. 

The US biweekly CDC data on circulating COVID variants track the “market shares” of the dizzying array of new strains appearing, proliferating and then disappearing as they are outcompeted by their more transmissible successors. Essentially all new infections continue to be from the XBB recombinant Omicron family, of which 794 different strains have thus far been identified. The EG.5 lineage is currently dominant in North America, accounting for more than 55% of US infections and 63% in Canada. EG.5 is itself already being eclipsed by its more transmissible HV.1 offshoot, which is now responsible for 25% of US new cases. Another of its progeny, HK.3, is the fastest growing, having increased its share six-fold over the past eight weeks.