High steady state of COVID-19 case levels are a concern, according to CoVaRR-Net experts

2023 April 13

More booster shots and improved ventilation remain part of the answer to decrease COVID-19 cases

OTTAWA, (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Despite a general perception that the COVID-19 pandemic is over, CoVaRR-Net experts have found that COVID-19 case levels and related hospital occupancies in Canada have remained steady at a high level over the past eight months – facts with serious implications for Canadians, our healthcare system, and our economy.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 has hovered at a steady level since the early fall of 2022, rather than declining, even though immunity in the Canadian population is high,” says Dr. Sally Otto, Co-Lead of CoVaRR-Net’s CAMEO (Computational Analysis, Modelling and Evolutionary Outcomes) Pillar and Killam Professor and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia.

“A relatively high level of COVID-19 in the population matters because it impacts rates of hospitalizations, long COVID development, and absenteeism in workplaces – collectively impacting both healthcare and the economy,” adds Dr. Fiona Brinkman, Deputy, CoVaRR-Net’s CAMEO Pillar and Distinguished Professor in Bioinformatics and Genomics at Simon Fraser University. “The waves have changed from big peaks and low troughs to smaller waves (or wavelets) centering around an overall higher COVID level. With the spread of recent immune-evasive variants, COVID case levels are consistently higher than we would want, and some people are getting re-infected three or four times a year.”

Spring uptick in COVID-19 cases predicted

“XBB.1.5 is the major strain that is driving cases now, and I expect a minor uptick in cases this Spring that should last for about a month,” says Dr. Otto. “Like glacial melt raising sea levels, the higher transmissibility of XBB.1.5 and waning immunity are raising the sea level of COVID-19 cases. We continue to see new variants emerge, so we don’t yet know what variant will dominate this summer, but we don’t predict a big downswing in the summer either.”

More boosters would curb case levels

“The current vaccination rate in Canada is less than one million shots a month. If Canadians doubled the rate at which they are getting vaccinated, the level of COVID-19 cases would decline by about 40%,” states Dr. Otto. “When more people get vaccinated, this helps to offset waning immunity. If Canadians were to stop getting boosters, our projections show cases would rise by about 40%.”

“Improving ventilation in crowded indoor settings would also reduce cases substantially. “Our modelling shows that if half of crowded environments improved ventilation – halving the risk of transmission in those places — cases in Canada would also drop by 40%,” adds Dr. Otto.

CoVaRR-Net’s CAMEO team – composed of more than 15 academic researchers and members of the Public Health Agency of Canada with diverse subject expertise – uses computer modelling and simulations to evaluate the genetic evolution of SARS-CoV-2 variants and monitor how quickly they spread in the Canadian population.

As CoVaRR-Net transitions to becoming an academic pandemic preparedness network, CAMEO scientists are continuing to develop knowledge tools to be able to track and monitor not just SARS-CoV-2, but also select other pathogens of concern.