UPDATE: The province has announced an extension of the lockdown until June 2. Dr. Mustafa Hirji was projecting a mid-June reopening would vb sustainable.
While the provincial government sounds like it plans to extend the lockdown past the May 20 deadline, Niagara’s acting medical officer of health is calling for a longer extension than is expected.
Although the number of cases are trending downward in Ontario and in Niagara, the decline isn’t as steep as it was when cases were rising in the third wave, Dr. Mustafa Hirji said Monday.
“It’s going to take longer for us to get out of this than it did to get into it,” he added.
Hospital and intensive care unit admissions are still dangerously high, he said, and it will likely be mid-June before they are down to a level that would allow a safe and sustainable reopening.
He is also concerned about the number of variants — almost all new cases in the province are variants now, he says, which spread more quickly and cause more serious illness.
Although the numbers show 63 per cent of cases from April 27 to May 3 were variants, a reporting lag means variants are under-counted, he said.
There is one case of the India variant reported, but that goes back to March, and has just recently been identified, he said, and he’s concerned there is more of the P.1 variant from Brazil than the one case that has been detected.
The reproductive rate of infection in Ontario has dropped to .9, where it has settled in recent weeks, but it will be better when it’s down to about .7, as it was in the second lockdown, Hirji said.
“This lockdown is not as effective, which is why we’re seeing .9, and the decline is not as steep as it was,” he said, adding “a handful of health units in Ontario are still above one” in their reproduction rate.
By mid-June, about 75 per cent of people will have had at least their first vaccination dose, said Hirji.
He’s concerned reopening before then could lead to another increase in cases, a fourth wave, and yet another lockdown.
If the current stay-at-home order is lifted too soon, with Ontario still averaging around 3,000 new cases daily, cases will rebound, he said.
Almost 40 per cent of Niagara residents have been vaccinated with at least one dose. Among people 18 and older, that number rises to 50.6 per cent of Niagara residents, a little more than the provincial average, and 97 per cent of those in the 80-plus age group have had at least one dose, Hirji said.
The provincial minister of health, Christine Elliott, said Monday that experts are advising the government to “stay the course,” and the province’s top doctor, Dr. David Williams, said he would like to see well below 1,000 daily cases before the stay-at-home order is lifted.
Although Hirji said he has no information about provincial reopening plans, “it’s the recommendation of almost every public health professional, and probably every person within the hospital sector as well,” that the stay-at-home order be extended.
Reopening too early “would be a huge, unforced error,” he added, referencing the second lockdown and a reopening before hospital and ICU admissions were under control.
It’s important to extend the lockdown until those admissions are reduced to the point that surgeries for cancer patients and those with other serious health issues can be resumed, he said.
While Hirji remains convinced schools could safely open before the end of the school year, he says the key condition is for cases to be down enough “that when we have a case in schools, we have the capacity to follow up with that case very quickly, figure out who was exposed, and isolate them.”
However, it was the province who shut down in-person learning, and it’s up to the province to decide when to reopen schools, he said.