Ontario reports 85 new COVID-19 deaths as top doctor says ‘risk of transmission will be going up’

Ontario is reporting 85 more deaths linked to COVID-19 over the past seven days as the province’s top doctor says there is ample supply of the Omicron-targeted vaccine, even for those not eligible for the shot until later this month.

Thursday’s new reported deaths are an increase from 74 the week prior. 

The rise in deaths comes just two weeks after Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore announced those who test positive for the virus no longer need to isolate for a period of five days. Instead, the new guidelines ask people to stay home until their fever clears and their symptoms improve for at least 24 hours, wearing a mask in all settings for 10 days afterward.

Members of the now-scrapped science table have said they would have advised against the lifting of the isolation period had they been consulted on the move. 

The most recent wave of the illness to hit Ontario — which started on June 19  —  is being fuelled by other Omicron variants, BA. 4 and BA. 5. Moore has said the seventh wave peaked in early August.

Deaths are considered a “lagging indicator,” one of a number of severe outcomes that can continue to rise even after a wave peaks. 

Newly released data from the Ontario Ministry of Health on Thursday shows the number of people in hospital with the virus has decreased from 1,248 last week to 1,167 as of Thursday.

However, the number of people in intensive care due to COVID-19 stayed relatively stable at 130, down slightly from 136 the week before.

Of those in intensive care, 57 patients are on a ventilator, up from 47 last week.

Test positivity on Thursday, however, was 12.2 per cent, about the same as last week’s positivity rate of 12.3.

The positivity rate can vary depending on the number of people who test for the virus. This past January, the province moved to limit PCR testing to high-risk populations and settings only. 

This week, the province is seeing approximately just over 12,000 new cases daily based on limited testing. 

Experts have said reported case counts are a severe underestimate of the actual extent of COVID-19 infections in Ontario.

Bivalent vaccine bookings opened for everyone as of 8 a.m. ET Monday, though appointments for especially vulnerable people will be prioritized until Sept. 26 before widening to all residents 18 and older.

Only quarter of spots booked over next 2 weeks

Meanwhile, Moore says over the next two weeks only 20,000 out of a potential 80,000 appointments have been booked.

“[We have] plenty of appointments available, we have the vaccine, we have the partnerships, we just need people to realize we all need to be protected for this winter, and maximize our level of protection at a community level,” he said in an interview Thursday.

“I know it’s great weather and everyone’s outdoors, but we soon will be going indoors and the risk of transmission will be going up.”

About 22,000 bivalent vaccines have been administered since they became available Monday, ministry officials said.

Ontarians aged 70 and older, long-term care residents, health-care workers, Indigenous people and their adult household members, immunocompromised people 12 and older and pregnant people are eligible for the Omicron-targeted booster now. 

All others 18 and older can book now for appointments starting as of Sept. 26. 

The Ministry of Health said the recommended wait between shots is six months from the last booster dose, but the minimum interval is 84 days. 

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