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York Region projects omicron peak could arrive Saturday: top doc

Region cases could reach estimated 2,800 new COVID-19 cases per day this weekend, as hospital ICUs become overwhelmed, medical officer of health says

York Region modelling indicates that the peak of the COVID-19 omicron wave could be as soon as this weekend, though the downturn will last several weeks after that.

Medical officer of health Dr. Barry Pakes highlighted that the peak of York Region's caseload could hit Jan. 15, with an estimated 2,800 new cases per day. Meanwhile, the peak for hospitalizations could come Jan. 20, at 33 new regional hospitalizations per day.

Although there are still challenges, Pakes said it does provide a reason for optimism.

“We’re in a very difficult time right now. We can expect it to be difficult for another week, two weeks at least, and then we can hopefully see somewhat of a decrease over the coming weeks,” Pakes said. “Although it still will be challenging, we will have reached a peak.”

Posted case counts are now less accurate due to testing restrictions, Pakes said, but the region can still model based on hospitalizations and wastewater data. The peak of this wave is significantly higher than previous ones, with wave three last year reaching a high of 500 cases per day.

Although the current omicron variant is less likely to cause hospitalization, the sheer number of cases means hospitalizations and ICU are becoming overwhelmed, Pakes said. He noted that Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital has 27 patients in ICU with a capacity of 21, with 60 per cent of the total there for COVID-19. The hospital's Jan. 13 at 10 a.m. update, which occurred after the presentation, said there were 14 patients in ICU for COVID-19, with four on ventilator.

However, he said vaccination efforts are going well, with the region administering approximately 12,000 doses per day. Children aged five to 11 are now 55 per cent vaccinated, he said. Approximately 89.5 per cent of York Region adults have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

But council members questioned efforts to address the unvaccinated. 

“I have no patience for the people who do not want to get vaccinated,” Regional Councillor Jack Heath said, noting Quebec is planning to tax the unvaccinated. “What we can do to get from 90 (per cent vaccinated) to 100?”

Pakes said it is a challenge. He noted the unvaccinated are significantly more likely to go to hospital or ICU compared to the vaccinated, but there are no plans currently by the province to introduce additional measures.

“That is one of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic response…the challenge of how to incentivize people is really a very challenging one,” he said, but adding York Region is one of the most vaccinated regions in the world. 

Pakes said the region wants to update its dashboard to once again include data on hospital admissions. However, he said they would not be broken down by vaccination status due to challenges getting that information from different hospitals. 

Council chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson asked the public and council to be patient with public health. 

“We have said our response is a marathon, not a sprint,” Emmerson said. “I am optimistic there are brighter days on the horizon.”