The course of the pandemic over the past week contains both good and bad news. The good news is that the seasonal fall surge appears to be peaking, with our three main indicators (wastewater viral counts, PCR test positivity rates and new COVID hospitalizations) all appearing to be stabilizing after roughly two months of steady climbs. The bad news is just how high they have all risen. According to the most recent estimates by COVID-19 Resources Canada, one in every 23 Ontarians is currently infected, which is up significantly from last week’s estimate of one in 34. 

Their October 7 to 20 forecast compares current values of four key indicators of pandemic severity with each of their low points in the pandemic (mostly this past summer): wastewater viral counts and infection are 13.8 times higher; Long COVID estimates 4.8 times higher; hospitalizations and ICU occupancy 7.7 times higher and deaths 5.4 times higher. Contrary to what too many federal and provincial politicians have been spouting, this pandemic is quite obviously far from “done” or “beaten”.   

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. For the COVID virus, outcompeting means being better at evading our existing immunity which, by six months after our last booster or infection, has significantly declined. EG.5, an Omicron->XBB->BA.19.2 subvariant currently tops the list with a 24% share, but has already started to decline. Two of its progenies, HV.1 and HK.3 are the fastest-growing, their incidence having respectively soared by nearly 5 and 10 times over the past weeks. Together, the EG.5 family accounts for almost half of new US cases. 

If you’ve noticed how many people in your family and extended circle have succumbed to recent COVID infections, you’re not alone. Consider how many people you encounter indoors over the course of a day. If one in 24 of them are currently infectious, you’re obviously at risk, the more so if your last booster shot or infection was more than six months ago. Realistically, the odds are likely half that given that, once unambiguous symptoms appear maybe two days after people become infectious, most but not all would stay home. But, for most of us, that still amounts to multiple opportunities for infection every day (consider classrooms, for example). Wearing a well-fitting N95 mask and getting your next booster as soon as you become eligible (i.e., every six months) remain your best protection. But there are no guarantees and, with the risk of Long COVID something like one in ten, the long-term costs in both dollars and quality of life will undoubtedly be immense. 

The above represents the kind of easily understandable information and advice that your provincial Health Unit is mandated to be giving you, and in the past most definitely would have. It’s worth considering why most of them have stopped doing so.