Wastewater can’t speak to possible increase in COVID-19 locally

Officials at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit remain relatively in the dark about how widespread COVID-19 is in the region after the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table suggested Ontario is seeing upwards of 100,000 new cases a day.

The table told the Toronto Star it came to the figure by analyzing wastewater data, suggesting Ontario hospitals could be overwhelmed once again.

Acting Medical Officer of Health Doctor Shanker Nesathurai said it is logical to assume more cases in the community will equal more hospitalizations, which will mean more people in intensive care.

However, wastewater data here offers local public health officials little insight. Without widespread testing for the virus, predicting hospitalization rates two or three weeks down the road is difficult.

Manager of Epidemiology Ramsey D’Souza said the health unit uses another indicator.

“What has been used in the past is our high-risk cases,” he said. “Typically, it’s from one high-risk case can represent up to ten in the community.”

Nesathurai is calling for a return to widespread testing in Ontario so public health units can better manage the pandemic.

Thursday’s epidemiological summary showed all the key indicators suggest an uptick in the viral spread. The number of outbreaks rose by seven last week from the week before to 16. The case rate in high-risk settings increased 9.9 per cent to 145.1 for every 100,000 residents. More tests are coming back positive from the lab. That is up 3.9 percentage points to 19.3 per cent. Hospitalizations are up, and wastewater analysis shows an increase in disease.

The health unit also reported 145 new cases in high-risk settings on Thursday. There are 383 active high-risk cases across the region. Hospitals reported 48 admissions and a woman in her 70s is the latest death from COVID-19.

D’Souza said for the past few weeks, occupancy in acute care beds has been around 100 per cent. That doesn’t give hospitals much room for a spike in admissions.

Nesathurai agrees.

“Not only do we have to meet immediate demand of a surge in cases, we also have to catch up on the services that we have deferred in the past two years,” he said. “I think there’s a very significant risk that hospital resources may not be sufficient.”

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