by Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On January 1, Ontario set a record for the highest daily count of newly reported COVID-19 cases. The reported 18,445 cases broke the previous record of 16,713 which was set the day before. Officials have noted that the actual numbers are likely higher, since there is insufficient availability of PCR testing for all those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Case numbers have declined slightly since the record was set, but have remained well above the 10,000 mark on average. Case numbers last month and this month have been much higher than numbers previously seen, likely due to the spread of the more contagious Omicron variant. Prior to last month, the previous daily new case record in Ontario was just 4,812, set in April of 2021. A year prior to that, from March to June of 2020, schools in Ontario remained closed for over three months, and many businesses were either closed or partially closed as well, even though case counts were consistently below the 800 mark and averaging much less.
With over 81% of all eligible Ontarians fully vaccinated, many are likely wondering why cases have reached an astounding peak. Though Ontario has stopped publishing the percentage of new cases who are fully vaccinated in their daily reports, reports for the last week of December showed that the percentage of fully vaccinated new cases was approximately equal to the number of fully vaccinated Ontarians, suggesting that vaccination does not slow the spread of COVID-19. Many early studies have suggested that this is because the vaccine simply isn’t as effective against the new Omicron variant. Others have suggested that a hidden benefit which vaccines have likely provided is the protection from severe COVID-19 infections. Indeed, COVID-19 deaths in Ontario reached their peak in early 2020, when the vaccine did not exist, and treatments were still experimental. Another peak in deaths occurred around the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, and again in April and May of last year. Currently, COVID-19 death rates are relatively low compared to those “deadliest” periods, sitting at a reported average of about 10 per day.
Currently, COVID-19 booster shots are available for anyone 18 years of age or older who received their second vaccine dose at least three months ago. Whether booster shots will reduce the COVID-19 infection numbers, or lower the severity of illness for those who do catch the virus, remains to be seen. Many preliminary reports are suggesting that booster shots will have very little impact on the spread of the Omicron variant. After nearly two years of pandemic life, people need hope of an eventual return to “normal” life, and the top doctor of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, has recently provided exactly that. At a press conference on December 31, Dr. Roumeliotis revealed that the massive spike in COVID-19 cases is good because it signals that the pandemic will likely shift to endemic status early in 2022. With cases spiking, and more people developing natural COVID-19 immunity with few hospitalizations and deaths, the virus is turning into one that we can live with in the near future, even with little to no restrictions and a return to a more normal life, according to Dr. Roumeliotis. All we can do is wait, and hope.