Daily COVID-19 infections are once again on the rise — including among young children — after dropping for seven straight weeks.
Toronto’s seven-day average for new daily infections rose to 59 from 50 a week earlier, as of last Saturday according to newly updated data that reflects a provincewide uptick in new cases.
Amid a rising vaccination rate, the indicator had tumbled since early September from an average of 156 new daily cases in Toronto.
COVID-19’s reproductive value, which signals growing virus spread when higher than 1, was steady at 1.1 in Toronto after inching above 1 on Oct. 22.
The most recent data for local children aged five to 11 shows they comprise 14 per cent of total Toronto cases, up from 11 per cent.
Dr. Anna Banerji, a University of Toronto infectious disease specialist, wasn’t surprised by the uptick but said it shows the need to get vaccine approved for young kids as soon as possible.
“It’s getting colder and we’ve seen vaccine mandates, but also you can go to restaurants and gyms and stadiums at full capacity,” Banerji said in an interview Thursday. “When you’re increasing the amount of people in certain areas, there will be increased transmission” of COVID-19.
“The big group of people that are unvaccinated, in congregate settings and potentially transmitting COVID, is children. The fact that things have opened up but we’re not seeing a huge escalation (in cases) is reassuring, but the next step is really trying to get those kids vaccinated.”
Health Canada is reviewing Pfizer data about its COVID-19 vaccine for young children, which the United States has approved for use in children aged five to 11.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, said she’s hopeful federal and provincial approvals will come soon so local kids can start being immunized within weeks.
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Toronto Public Health on Thursday said the “slight” increase in daily cases could be due to colder weather pushing people inside, increasing “social interactions and touchpoints with many businesses and organizations being open indoors.”
“We may also be seeing the slight uptick in cases due to social gatherings and events, however it is not a significant increase,” the agency said in an emailed response to the Star’s questions.
The increase in infections among young kids is “not unexpected” given they cannot be vaccinated, Toronto Public Health said.
The best thing teens and adults can do now to protect kids is to fully vaccinate themselves.
“Ensuring that we have high level of immunity will protect those who are unable to get vaccinated such as children under 11 years old, residents who may be immunocompromised or residents who may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19,” the agency said.
While children are less likely than adults to get seriously ill from COVID-19, Alberta reported increasing numbers of kids in intensive care amid a punishing fourth pandemic wave there.
The bright spot in Toronto’s latest data is that, so far, the rise in new cases is not sending more people to hospital. Vaccination makes people resistant to infection and, if infected, much less likely to get seriously ill.
The daily average for local hospitalizations is down to 1.4 — the lowest since August 2020.
Asked if Toronto’s high vaccination rate — 84 per cent of eligible residents have received two doses — will protect the health-care system even as new infections rise, Toronto Public Health said: “While there has been a slight increase in cases counts in recent days, it is too early to make any generalizations about the community spread of COVID-19 and expected rate of severe outcomes such as hospitalizations.”
Ontario on Thursday reported 438 new coronavirus infections, up from 378 on Wednesday and from 409 one week earlier.
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider
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