While the intent of this weekly blog is to update you on what has changed in the past week, governments at all levels have become increasingly slow in their reporting, which means that the statistics shown here tend to reflect what actually happened two to three weeks ago. Worse, governments and their health authorities have been simplifying their reporting to better jibe with political messaging, which makes it harder to find the relevant information. As a particularly egregious example, Kingston’s health unit has just replaced its previously excellent COVID dashboard with a more general respiratory virus version which provides much less hard data and no longer bothers to report on COVID deaths, as if that were something that the public really doesn’t need to know. 

As you can see from this week’s composite chart, the current COVID resurgence continues unabated. In fact, since the full impact of schools reopening has yet to manifest in this tardy data, the reality is undoubtedly worse. Viral counts in municipal sewage, which serve as the most objective indicator of community spread, have soared by a factor of five since the mid-July low. In that same period, PCR test positivity among the minority who remain eligible for such testing nearly tripled. Because Ontario will not be updating its September hospitalization data for another week, we have substituted the Canada-wide graph which shows a 78% jump in COVID hospitalizations in the five weeks ending September 12. 

This coronavirus continues to surprise. The latest Canadian sequencing data shows the unprecedented proliferation of the variants currently circulating. Unlike previous phases of this pandemic in which the single most transmissible variant quickly rose to dominance and remained dominant for many months, Public Health Canada is currently tracking some two dozen subvariants of the XBB branch. As illustrated in this bar chart, the dozen most common of them collectively account for roughly 75% of new Canadian cases. EG.5.1.1 is the single most prevalent with a 13% “market share” and the EG.5 family, now with six members being tracked, accounts for just under a third of the total. 

So far, none of the strains currently circulating cause more serious symptoms than what has been the Omicron norm, but every new variant represents a reshuffling of genes, which implies that more surprises are inevitable. Our collective herd immunity has peaked over the past year with the vast majority of Canadians having experienced at least one COVID bout, but that immunity starts to decline after six months and very few of us are bothering to get free booster shots. Rising hospitalizations should serve as a wakeup call for those who have become complacent, but probably won’t until the current pandemic resurgence significantly worsens to the point of forcing reluctant governments to increase public awareness.