More and more younger Ontarians are finding out that the COVID-19 pandemic is real, it's serious and getting worse.
In fact, high-level provincial health advisors are saying the third wave of the pandemic is here and it is being driven by Variants of Concern, newer strains of the COVID-19 virus that have originated in the U.K., in Brazil and in South Africa.
Ontario chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams, and co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table Dr. Adelsteinn Brown, told a briefing at Queen's Park Thursday morning that more younger Ontarians (up to age 59) are ending up in hospital, the infections are being driven by variants, the risk of being sent to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is two times higher and the risk of death is now 1.5 times higher.
The briefing told reporters that in most health units across Ontario now, the COVID-19 case counts are above the the second highest level in the colour-code framework, which is the Red-Control zone.
The most restricted zone is Grey-Lockdown. As of March 28, most health unit zones in Ontario were above the Red- Control level. This is followed by the Orange-Restrict zone, the Yellow-Protect zone and the Green-Prevent zone.
Dr. Brown, who presented most of the new findings, said the virus is threatening Ontario's health system's ability to deal with regular ICU admissions and the ability of care of all patients.
Brown didn't sugar coat the situation.
"We are in the third wave of the pandemic. As the new variants spread, you will see that COVID is killing faster and younger," said Brown.
"It is spreading far more quickly than it was before and we cannot vaccinate quickly enough to break this third wave. This is the challenge of the new variants," said Brown.
To add emphasis to the stark news of the grim statistics, Brown said he would share some of the things he was learning from the doctors and nurses in the hospital hallways and critical care units.
"Whole families are now showing up in intensive care. It used to be that one family member, often an older parent or grandparent, would be in an intensive care unit while other members of the family would have caught a much milder form of the disease, if at all," said Brown.
He said hospitals are now seeing situations where whole families are ending up in intensive care, all at the same time. Brown said this creates new pressure on intensive care to handle the cases. In some situations, Brown said sick family members are split up and taken to different hospitals by road ambulance or by helicopter.
"One family ended up spread between three hospitals. One in Simcoe, one in Toronto and an adult child on a ventilator in a third city. Another family ended up spread between three cities; three different hospitals. All of them died," said Brown.
He added that vaccinations are the key to long term control and progress is being made with older Ontario residents and in areas where there is a high degree of infection.
"But vaccination alone is not enough," said Brown. He said the best weapons are short term control with public health measures using masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene and staying outside for any social gatherings.
"And as a last resort, stay at home," he said.
Brown also came down hard on other arguments against pandemic controls.
"Sometimes we talk about public health measures and the economy, or public health measures and mental health as a trade-off. This is a false debate. The faster we get the pandemic under control, the faster we return to normal," said Brown.
"Partial measures, half-hearted adherence and denial prolong the pandemic and make life harder for everyone," Brown added.
Watch the livestream feed of the press conference above.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce a provincewide lockdown later today due to rising COVID-19 levels. That press conference takes place at 1:30 p.m., and we will also carry the livestream feed for that event.
Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com, covering health care in Northern Ontario. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the federal government.