‘Don’t get this wrong’: Statistician says ‘no doubt’ third wave has started in Ontario

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A biostatistician who has been tracking COVID-19 numbers in Ontario says all indicators point to the province having entered a third wave of the pandemic.

“It is beyond a doubt we are in the third wave right now. The only thing that we can determine is the height of that wave,” Ryan Imgrund told CP24 Tuesday night. “But absolutely, we are in the third wave. Do not get this wrong.”

He explained that Ontario has seen a reproductive rate — the number of secondary infections caused by one infected person –  of more than one for 22 out of the last 26 days.

“Whenever you have a reproductive rate above one, you’re seeing growth,” Imgrund said. “Whenever you see growth, you’re seeing the start of a new wave.”

He explained that while numbers were coming down as Ontario emerged from its second wave several weeks ago, infection rates are now increasing across all age groups.

“What we have started to see now is we’re seeing increasing cases in every age group — that’s not just zero through 20 or 20 to 39 — every age group, zero through 99, including those that are 80 to 99, we are seeing increasing cases.”

Ontario’s independent COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said earlier Tuesday that two thirds of the province’s 34 public health units are now experiencing exponential growth of COVID-19 cases and declared that a third wave had arrived. On Monday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams said Ontario appears to be at the “base of a third wave” of infections.

York Region’s top doc not convinced

Speaking with CP24 Tuesday night, York Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Karim Kurji said he is not convinced that a third wave has begun.

“We have been following our data in York Region very carefully and I have reason to believe that those claims are exaggerated,” he said. “And, you know basically one of the most important drivers was international travel and we seem to have rigid controls with respect to our international travel now.”

He added that while the more contagious variants of concern “are concerning,” he thinks the region can manage any case growth through good case and close contact management.

“So I don’t think that it will be the sort of explosive growth that has been predicted by other experts. But of course, we are taking precautions and we do plan just in case you know we are wrong.”

Kurji said York Region has made good progress in vaccinating its 80+ population and will be moving on to those in their late 70s “very soon” though he did not say exactly when.

Ontario’s vaccine rollout too early along to make a big difference

Health officials have said that the variants of concern could cause a more dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases than has previously been seen in the province. Currently those variants account for around 50 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Ontario.

Imgrund said it would be a mistake to think that vaccinations might hold off a rising tide of infections at this point.

“We have here in Ontario fully vaccinated two per cent of the population. That’s one in 50 people who have been vaccinated, roughly. Two, here in Ontario, one of 50 people have actually ever had COVID-19. That is not removing a significant population.”

He said while some experts have pointed to data from the U.K. and Israel in their assessments that a third wave won’t occur with vaccinations, Ontario is at a much earlier point in our vaccination program.

“In the U.K., there’s been 38 vaccine doses per 100 people; in Israel, it’s almost 100 doses per 100 people. So you cannot compare the vaccination rate of those countries with here in Ontario.”

He said statistically, 60 to 90 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.

“We are nowhere near that. We are at two per cent,” he said. “We need 30 times the number of vaccines rolled out for us to see herd immunity, and that’s why these next few weeks and next few months, are so important.”

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