Fall COVID-19 case spike expected
McMaster experts comment on anticipated spike in COVID-19 cases and discuss how students can stay safe
Many Canadian COVID-19 experts have recently raised concerns surrounding a potential spike in COVID-19 cases on university campuses.
While case counts have been relatively low for many months, over the last few weeks, the country has already started see an increase in COVID-19 cases. This uptick includes 10 Canadian regions displaying an increase in cases and Hamilton COVID-19 data reporting an increase in test positivity over the last month.
Dr. Manali Mukherjee, an affiliate scientist with the research institute at St. Joeseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, assistant professor with the McMaster University Department of Medicine and long-COVID researcher, shared her thoughts on the predicted resurgence.
“COVID has never really left us; it's just the incidence has gone down. With more mingling, more people coming in, we are expecting a spike. We are already hearing a number of cases of friends, family, near and dear ones in community, who are testing positive for COVID. So, it is not a surprise,” she said.
Dr. Matthew Miller, director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and Canada Research chair in viral pandemics, explained that the back-to-school season commonly marks a spike in other respiratory pathogens, including influenza.
Miller explained that these pathogens also pose a threat alongside COVID-19 upon our return to campus. Staying up to date with booster vaccines and seasonal flu vaccines will help relieve a burden off our healthcare system.
“If we look back to last year, one of the biggest stresses that our healthcare system faced was the co-circulation of [respiratory syncytial virus] and influenza. What that really stressed was our pediatric hospitals. Obviously, that's very worrisome because we want to make sure those hospitals have lots of capacity to deal with children who are sick for other reasons.” said Miller.
The availability of fall COVID-19 booster vaccines has not been confirmed yet, but Miller said it is likely they will be made available alongside and can be co-administered with seasonal flu vaccines.
Regarding the severity of the spike, both Mukherjee and Miller said that it is hard to predict the magnitude of the case spike.
“I think it's hard to predict the magnitude and overall impact of this spike because there are so many factors that determine those things. What I would say is that maximizing air circulation while indoors can be really helpful for reducing the likelihood of transmission. As the weather stays nice, trying to keep windows open and try to socialize outdoors as much as possible,” he said.
Miller also noted wearing high quality masks in indoor environments can further help prevent the spread of the virus.
Almost three years have passed since the start of the pandemic and this time has allowed the medical community to develop many tools to effectively handle the virus when it resurges, such as new therapeutic modalities.
Mukherjee explained that no matter the severity of the case spike, she is confident in the tools and insight the healthcare community has developed for us to properly handle a virus resurgence.
“We are almost dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic. We have vaccines, we know how to deal with this, we know how to social distance, we know the ifs and buts of what to do. I think we are way better prepared than we were when it first hit us or the rounds that kept on coming after that,” she said.
More information on COVID-19 in Hamilton and prevention is available from the city of Hamilton website.