Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table says the province should be prepared to reinstate mass vaccination clinics, vaccine passports and mask mandates if the new BA.2 variant continues to spread.

In new COVID-19 modelling released last week, the Science Advisory Table says hospitalizations and ICU admissions are likely to increase over the next few weeks after the relaxation of public health measures, but the spike won’t be as drastic as the one we had seen in January 2022 due to the emergence of Omicron.

They say between now and May, based on their surveillance of wastewater and trends across the province, hospital occupancy rates could increase from about 600 daily hospitalizations to about 900 hospitalizations per day. Still, that’s a drastic drop from the over 4,100 daily hospitalizations two months ago.

The table notes that third doses of the vaccine helped to reduce hospitalizations and ICU occupancy rates during the Omicron wave by about 30 per cent, even though the administration of vaccines has likely plateaued at this point.

As well, on average across the province, COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and ICU numbers have stopped declining, but there is still considerable variation between different regions, and the rise of the new BA.2 subvariant of the virus is a concern.

Ontario’s Health Minister, Christine Elliott, has estimated that the new ‘stealth’ variant of COVID-19 could make up 50 per cent of Ontario’s COVID-19 cases within the next few weeks, but they haven’t seen an increase in hospitalizations at this point.

As well, the table adds that older adults, immunocompromised, unvaccinated and marginalized individuals and groups are still susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19, and a complete vaccine series of two doses in children, three doses in adults and four doses in long-term care residents is the best defense.

The Science Advisory table notes that with mask requirements ending across most of the country, masks are still a useful tool to protect yourself and others.

In a recent study of over 500 people, a cloth mask helped lower the odds of testing positive for COVID-19 by 56 per cent, a surgical mask reduced your risk by 66 per cent, while an N95 mask lowered your odds by 83 per cent.

Moving forward, Ontario’s advisors are recommending that the province look at renewing mass COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, to look at renewing vaccine certificates which would require a third dose of the vaccine for high-risk settings, and be prepared to reintroduce mask mandates if needed.