New modelling released today by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) suggests the highly transmissible Omicron variant will push hospital admissions to “extremely high levels” in the coming weeks as case counts reach levels never before seen in this country.
While there is a lot of uncertainty about how many new infections are being reported each day due to ongoing COVID-19 testing restraints, PHAC said the current test positivity rate suggests the variant is running rampant and there will be “several weeks of very intense activity expected to come.”
Nationally, the positivity rate is a stunning 28 per cent. That means more than one in four tests for the virus are coming back positive — nearly five times higher than the rate at any other point in the pandemic.
To maintain the health care system and the “critical functions of society,” PHAC is urging Canadians to limit in-person contacts, get their booster shots and wear good quality, snug-fitting face masks to help stop transmission of a variant that is ripping through communities nationwide.
While Omicron is less severe than past variants — the risk of hospitalization is lower than with the Delta variant, for example — the sheer number of new infections means more people will be susceptible to severe outcomes, including hospitalization and death.
The “enormous volume of cases” is driving an increase in severe illness trends nationally, PHAC said. New hospital admissions could surge to somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 each day, well above historical highs.
Since December, the number of people with COVID-19 being treated in hospitals has more than quadrupled to an average of over 6,779 daily, while the number in critical care has doubled to an average of over 884 daily. Meanwhile, 82 deaths are being reported each day.
Omicron has wreaked havoc because it is able to evade prior immunity from past infections and vaccination. PHAC said two doses of an mRNA vaccine are not very effective against infection and symptomatic disease; it described vaccine efficacy against Omicron as “low to very low.”
However, people with two doses of a vaccine are less likely to be admitted to hospital. PHAC data suggest unvaccinated people are 19 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people.
“These trends clearly show that being vaccinated with two or more doses is highly protective. As booster doses continue to expand, being up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines is expected to preserve this protection advantage,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.