Christine Elliott, Ontario’s minister of health, indicated the expectation is that the province's peak in the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic will happen in the next two weeks, in terms of cases.
"We expect that this will peak the third, fourth week of January, with the first and second week of February for ICUs," Elliott said at a press conference on Tuesday. "We’re following it very carefully."
The health minister confirmed Ontario has 600 ICU beds available, with 500 more available if required.
Matthew Anderson, the CEO of Ontario Health, added that "perhaps some good news" at this point in the pandemic is that the rate of increase on hospitalizations "seems to be slowing."
Anderson said it is "absenteeism" in Ontario's health workforce is a "big strain" right now.
To address this strain, the provincial government, in collaboration with Ontario Health and the College of Nurses of Ontario, will deploy internationally educated nurses to hospitals and healthcare settings. More than 1,200 individuals have expressed interest so far and matching with healthcare providers will begin later this week.
'School does not drive up the cases for our kids'
Elliott and Anderson also spoke briefly about the return to in-person learning in Ontario schools, which will resume on Jan. 17.
Education minister Stephen Lecce is expected to make an announcement on Wednesday about the return to school process, but Anderson identified that this should do not "drive up" COVID-19 cases among children in particular, but absenteeism among staff is what needs to be monitored.
"The data suggests that being back in school does not drive up the cases for our kids and what we need to monitor really is absenteeism for our teachers and for the kids coming back to school," he said. "But certainly the risk from community spread, it will have absenteeism challenges in the schools."
Minister Elliott confirmed that PCR test will be available in schools for some symptomatic students and teachers, and Ontario received 3.5 million rapid tests yesterday, many of which will be sent to schools across the province.