December 9, 2023

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Ontario scraps daily COVID-19 reporting for weekly updates as most mask mandates end

After years of daily COVID-19 data reporting from the province, Public Health Ontario (PHO) is moving to a weekly reporting system.

In a news release issued late Friday afternoon, the province announced the change comes into effect as of June 11. Ontario will publish the latest COVID-19 data each Thursday, starting on June 16.

“PHO will continue to monitor trends and determine if any additional changes to reporting are needed, including to frequency and content, in the coming weeks and months,” the statement reads.

Data will still be available through the province’s Open Data Catalog, it notes, but it will not be on the provincial website.

The statement also says Ontario will “sunset other duplicative reporting” for facilities like long-term care homes, retirement homes, and schools.

“This information is available through other channels, including for example from local public health units and school boards,” according to the province. The statement also adds that the province will be removing the Verify Ontario app that was used for proof-of-vaccination programs from app stores by June 24.

New round of booster doses in fall

Meanwhile, Ontario’s COVID-19 indicators are heading in the right direction but the province’s top doctor is preparing for the fall, when trends will likely worsen, with plans that include a new round of booster doses.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said the preparations include scenarios for various stakeholders in the health system to go through, such as an “aggressive” flu season combined with a COVID-19 resurgence.

Ontario announced Wednesday that provincial mask mandates in most high-risk settings including on public transit and hospitals, will expire Saturday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario will be purchasing more than six million doses of flu vaccine, he said in an interview, and expects to offer further doses against COVID-19.

“So, another booster dose for the most at-risk of members of our community for COVID, and then potentially opening it up to the general public for another booster dose,” he said.

Third doses are currently available to people 12 and older, and fourth doses are available for people who are 60 and older or First Nation, Inuit and Metis adults as well as their adult household members. Immunocompromised people — such as transplant recipients — aged 60 and older and long-term care residents can get a fifth dose.

LISTEN | Ontario should have extended high-risk setting mask mandatesm, says science table head:

Metro Morning8:42As mask mandates in most high risk settings expire this weekend, Dr. Fahad Razak wants to see universal masking policy in Ontario hospitals

Dr. Fahad Razak is Scientific Director for Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, and an internist at St. Michael’s hospital.

Moore anticipates that in the fall a new generation of vaccine will be available that targets both the original COVID strain plus a more up-to-date one that is circulating, such as Omicron.

“We’re looking at distribution models through pharmacy, primary care, and your public health partners,” he said.

“That would be something that could start as early as October. We’ll start with the highest risk, so by age or by occupation, so health-care workers or those over 60, to offer it to them, and then based on the availability and demand expand further.”

Mask mandates could return

If another wave of COVID-19 threatens the health system and its ability to deal with the surgical backlog, Moore said there is a possibility mask mandates may return “if it’s really, absolutely required.”

“Certainly any further public health measures beyond that, I don’t think will ever be necessary, given the benefits of the vaccine that we’ve seen and given the effectiveness of masking at a population level,” he said.

Provincial mask mandates for public transit and health-care settings will expire this weekend, though hospitals say they will keep requiring masks. The mandates remain in place in long-term care and retirement homes, and Moore recommends keeping those until at least the summer of 2023.

Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said preparations for a fall COVID-19 strategy are well underway, including vaccinations, and officials are going through various scenarios such as an aggressive flu season and new COVID variants. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The province is also preparing for the eventual approval of vaccines for children under five. An application from Moderna for a COVID-19 vaccine for children aged six months to five years old has been under review by Health Canada since late April.

It took Health Canada almost three months to authorize the Moderna vaccine for adolescents, and almost four months for children ages six to 11. Moore said the youngest children may not be able to be vaccinated until at least late summer.

“We’ve already had plans of how to distribute it through our primary care partners, as well as our pharmacy partners,” he said.

“So we’re ready. It’s now just ensuring that the vaccine is safe, that it’s effective, and that it will indeed, protect children fully. And I don’t mind taking that extra time to ensure the data is correct.”

10 more deaths reported

Meanwhile, Ontario is reporting 536 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 10 more deaths on Friday.

Friday’s reported hospitalizations are down slightly from 549 on Thursday and from 669 on the same day last week.

According to the Ministry of Health, 42 per cent of those hospitalized were admitted specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive.

Of those in hospital, 110 required intensive care, down from 118 on Thursday, but down from 117 this time last week. Fifty-two patients require the help of ventilators to breathe.

Some 66 per cent of people in intensive care units were admitted because of the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive.

Meanwhile, the province reported at least 835 new daily cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with 9,192 tests completed within the past 24 hours. However, due to testing limitations, officials say the actual number of daily new cases is likely far higher than reported.

The provincewide test positivity rate stands at 7.3 per cent.

Wastewater data surveillance set up to detect COVID-19 suggests a continuing overall decline in the level of infection in most of the province except for northern Ontario, according to the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

The latest data shows the decline of wastewater detection as of May 31 with estimates that this trend will continue in June.

The new deaths reported Friday push the province’s pandemic death toll to 13,324.