The significant rise this past week in all of the main pandemic indicators on top of smaller increases over the previous several weeks makes in crystal clear that the seasonal summer decline in new COVID infection which many had been touting as evidence of the pandemic being over is now behind us. The obvious question is just how bad can it get? The honest answer is that only time can tell. 

As you can see from this week’s composite chart, the summer decline bottomed out in July and the three Ontario indicators (viral counts in municipal sewage, the PCR test positivity rate among those eligible for testing, and COVID hospitalizations all began rising at an accelerating rate in August, more than doubling over the past month. Those increases will likely further accelerate through September with substantially increased community transmission as a direct consequence of schools being again in session. 

Far from having been vanquished, the virus continues to spawn ever more mutations. Previously, this pandemic had been characterized by dominance by the currently most transmissible variant, which was inevitably displaced some months later by a newer, even more transmissible strain. This week’s Canadian version of variant bar chart displays the relative incidence of the dozen most common among 22 variants were sequenced from newly-infected Canadians during the week of August 27 to September 2. The three most common, all subvariants of EG.5 (which was itself an offspring of XBB.1.9.2) amounted to only 38% of all new cases. The percentages don’t add up to 100 because of the many less common variants which couldn’t be usefully fit into the chart. 

The number of new infections will continue to rise until the current menagerie of variants start running out of victims whose waning immunity they cannot overcome. We have collectively rendered ourselves vulnerable for a host of reasons, including pandemic denial being perceived as politically attractive, mask wearing in indoor public places being seen as unfashionable, booster shots being seen as inconvenient and governments ignoring simple precautions like providing HEPA air filters to classrooms. Somewhere along the way, our society forgot how to learn from experience.