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COVID-19: Hamilton passes through peak of latest wave, but many more cases likely through March

Public health is projecting Hamilton’s COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths will remain above pre-Omicron levels into March, despite the city passing the peak of the latest wave.

New Scarsin forecasting, revealed during a board of health (BOH) meeting on Monday, projected a scenario where the city will have to deal with about 20,000 new COVID-19 cases and another 300 hospitalizations between Feb. 14 and Mar. 31.

As per previous waves, severe outcomes will disproportionately occur more among those aged 60 years and over, according to the data.

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Epidemiologist Ruth Sanderson told city councillors that although only 13 per cent of predicted cases will be in those 60 and older, 79 per cent of forecasted hospital admissions will be those aged over 60.

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“Those 60 to 79 years old will make up 61 per cent of predicted … new hospitalizations among Hamiltonians,” said Sanderson.

Intensive care admissions are expected to be in about the 50 cases range for the same period, with 82 per cent of those affected aged 60 and older.

About 15 per cent aged 20 through 59 have been earmarked for potential ICU stays.

The modelling says another 25 COVID-related deaths are possible between mid-February and the end of March.

“Most deaths, 93 per cent, will occur in those 60 and older,” Sanderson said.

“And 61 per cent are specifically predicted to be in those aged 80 and older.”

The forecast comes the same day the Ford government accelerated the next phase of Ontario’s three-phased approach to reopening the economy to Thursday, Feb. 17 — up from the previous date of Feb. 21.

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Measures will include increasing social gathering limits to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors as well as allowing 50 per cent of seating capacity for sports arenas, concert venues and theatres with proof of vaccination.

The province also said it would be ending its COVID-19 vaccine passport system starting on March 1 but keeping the mask mandate in place.

Responding to the move, the city’s medical officer health still preached caution with Omicron’s transmission rate but suggested it “is time to look at reopening” for mental health, economic reasons and coping with substance abuse.

“We do need to move forward and figure out how we’re living with this virus. That is absolutely essential, ” said Richardson.

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“We cannot continue to live in fear as we go forward, but make practical and responsible decisions … thinking both about our impacts, our actions on others, as well as protecting the those who are most vulnerable in our society.”

Over 90 per cent of eligible Hamiltonians 12-plus fully vaccinated

Hamilton’s vaccination program has now surpassed its goal of reaching 90 per cent first dose coverage for the 12-plus population and should surpass 90 per cent second dose coverage in the coming weeks.

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As of Feb. 13, the city has put about 1.2 million COVID vaccine doses into arms with about 464,000 second doses and 278,000 third shots.

About 90.1 per cent of residents aged 12-plus have had a first dose while 87.6 per cent have had at least two shots.

Close to 82.8 per cent of eligible Hamiltonians aged five and up have had a pair of doses, while 86.9 per cent have gotten at least one shot.

Vaccination program manager Melissa Biksa characterized January’s numbers among the pediatric population as an “encouraging increase,” with first doses up 10 per cent since the last BOH meeting.

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“Over 21,400 first doses have been administered to five to 11-year-olds residing in Hamilton, which represents just slightly over 50 per cent coverage,” Biksa said.

Close to 10,000 second doses are in the arms of the city’s five- to 11-year-olds, equating to 23 per cent coverage. Second doses now account for the vast majority of daily doses administered to the five to 11 population.

“Vaccine coverage in the pediatric population varies across Hamilton, with the highest coverage still in Dundas and Ancaster, Glanbrook and Lower West area,” said Biksa.

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“However, areas with lower coverage, which include the Lower Central, Lower East and Lower Stoney Creek has had some of the greatest change in first dose coverage over the past several weeks, narrowing the gap.”

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February has already seen a change in overall focus to vaccinating more in the pediatric population through closure and redeployment of staff from the Barton Street clinic to mobile teams.

Those squads are now tackling school-based and community pop-up vaccine clinics.

“Over the past two weeks, our teams have held … clinics at lower coverage elementary schools across Hamilton,” Biksa said.

“We’ve also been holding weekend clinics at high schools, open to students, families and staff from respective feeder schools.”

Public health clinics across the city have also now opened up for walk-ins among the youth population.

Hamilton is slightly behind the provincial average in first doses for those aged five to 11 — 50 per cent compared to Ontario’s 53.9 per cent.

The city’s rate of second doses in the age group is at 25 per cent slightly better that the province’s 23.5 per cent.

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Two-dose vaccinations in the 12-plus age group are at 90 per cent, while single doses are at 92.4 per cent.

Excluding kids aged five to 11, Hamiltonians in the 12-to-17 age group represent the lowest vaccination rates of those eligible in all communities.

Just over 81 per cent have had two shots and only about two per cent have had third doses.

Fourth dose clinics for residents in retirement homes have now been completed, according to public heath. Onboarded settings, including long-term care homes, are expected to have clinics completed in the coming weeks.

Over 100 persons with COVID hospitalized in Hamilton

Reconciling health data over the last three months, officials estimate Hamilton hit its peak in the wave fuelled by Omicron in mid-January.

Between Jan. 9 and Jan. 24, the city saw a three-month high of 187 hospitalizations and 46 COVID-related deaths equating to about six new admissions per day.

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The city reported an average of four hospitalizations per day in the previous reporting period between Dec. 1 and Jan. 8.

As of Monday, the city’s networks have 123 COVID patients admitted with 16 requiring ICU care, down 79 and 13 week over week.

Occupancy rates in the city’s adult ICUs have also dropped over seven days, with Hamilton Health Science moving to 82 per cent from last Monday’s 90, while St. Joe’s is at 92 per cent compared to 100 per cent reported on Jan. 7.

Week over week, COVID-19 outbreaks tied to the city’s hospitals have dropped almost in half.

As of Sunday, public health reported just four among the two networks with only 43 related cases — 32 among patients.

Last week, there were seven involving 37 total cases.

Seniors homes still represent the largest group carrying outbreak cases in Hamilton as of Feb. 13 — 421 from seven surges.

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That’s less than half of what was reported seven days ago when there were 18 outbreaks tied to over 700 cases.

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Public health data reveals there are 378 cases connected with the five current outbreaks in long-term care homes.

The city’s retirement homes account for just over 40 cases from two surges.

Just over 730 cases are connected to the city’s 21 confirmed institutional outbreaks as of Feb. 6.

There were at least 170 reported COVID-19 cases in five Hamilton shelter outbreaks as of Sunday.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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