Toronto

COVID-19 community spread 'appears to have peaked' in Ontario, but long-term care cases rising

Premier Doug Ford said he's proud of the public for its role in slowing the spread of novel coronavirus, saying: "We faced this enemy head on, we did not shy away from difficult decisions." However, health officials say it's too early to lift physical distancing rules.

Physical distancing and emergency measures must remain in place, experts say

Ontario reported 606 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, the largest single-day increase since the outbreak began in late January. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The peak of community spread of the novel coronavirus in Ontario seems to have been less severe than anticipated, updated modelling suggests, but the public must "stay the course" to ensure a best-case scenario remains achievable in the weeks ahead, public health officials say.

The revised projections come as health authorities provide a briefing on Monday afternoon on the current status of COVID-19 in Ontario.

The total number of cases for the span of this wave of the outbreak is "now likely less than 20,000" — if the physical distancing and other emergency measures remain in place, documents provided by the province's dedicated COVID-19 task force say.

That figure is "substantially lower" than the worst-case scenario of 300,000 and expected-case scenario of 80,000 included in Ontario's previous modelling update on April 3.

Experts initially anticipated a peak of community spread at some point in May.

Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto's public health department, noted that the so-called peak period can last for several days or longer.

"Peaks are not a nice single sort of spike. They can be a little bit bumpy, they can be prolonged for a period of time," he said.

Unclear if measures will remain through to 2nd wave

In their update, officials drew a distinction between the COVID-19 situation among the general community and that in the province's long-term care facilities, where the number of cases and deaths is growing considerably each day.

"We're at peak in the community, but still in that accelerating upswing of the curve in long-term care," Brown said.

WATCH | Adalsteinn Brown speaks to Ontario's COVID-19 peak 

Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, says Ontario is now expecting a much lower number of COVID-19 cases this month than earlier models anticipated. 1:06

Premier Doug Ford said Monday that these new numbers show that Ontario's physical distancing measures are working. 

"I am so proud, we should all be proud, that as a province we stepped up. We faced this enemy head on, we did not shy away from difficult decisions," Ford said. 

"We have so far avoided the worst case scenario we were dreading, we avoided the devastation that we faced in other countries." 

He went on to caution however that the fight against COVID-19 is far from over. 

"We are not out of the woods yet, we are still in the middle of a battle," Ford said at a news conference Monday.

Ford added that the province is working on a plan to gradually reopen everything it shut down as part of its ongoing state of emergency, and that plan will be measured and safe. 

Ford wouldn't say if he plans to keep sectors of the economy closed through to the end of an expected second wave or if Ontario could see a bit of loosening and then re-tightening as needed. 

WATCH | Ford speaks about when Ontario can lift its physical distancing measures 

Premier Doug Ford asks people to "hang in there" and continue practicing social distancing, despite Ontario's positive COVID-19 progress. 1:32

But until health officials deem it safe to ease restrictions, Health Minister Christine Elliott said everyone needs to continue staying home and following precautionary measures. 

"Remember that lives are at stake," Elliott said Monday.

"Resist the temptation to break from that advice so that we can keep each other safe and all come out of this together." 

Physical distancing to remain for foreseeable future, officials say 

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province's associate chief medical officer of health, also emphasized that physical distancing and other measures are working, but warned that they will likely need to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

"Once we lift it it will be very hard to go back," Yaffe continued, cautioning that the data presented today is a snapshot of COVID-19 in Ontario as of two to three weeks ago, given the lag time in how long it takes for an infected person to show symptoms, get tested and — in some cases — die. 

WATCH | Dr. Barbara Yaffe speaks about extending Ontario's state of emergency 

Barbara Yaffe, associate chief medical officer of health, says that even though cases of COVID-19 community spread in Ontario appear to have peaked, public health measures must remain in place 0:46

Loosening measures to limit the spread now could backfire, Brown suggested.

"This is not a dimmer switch... When you decrease social distancing that will increase the spread of the disease."

606 new cases reported today

Earlier today, the province reported that the total number of COVID-19 cases since the outbreak began has topped 11,000.

The 606 new cases confirmed today means that Ontario's tally now stands at 11,184, including at least 656 deaths and 5,515 cases that are considered resolved. Just over 11 per cent of all cases, or 1,267, are health-care workers.

Previous modelling showed that by today, under the "best case scenario," more than 1,200 people confirmed to have COVID-19 would be in intensive care units.

But Monday's new modelling projections suggest there are fewer hospitalizations and patients in intensive care than even that predicted.

Currently 247 patients are in intensive care units, with 193 of those on ventilators. 

Some 802 people are currently battling COVID-19 in hospital, down slightly from the weekend. 

An estimated 387 intensive care beds and 774 ward beds will be required during Ontario's peak.

A resident in East York put a sign in their front window to thank front-line workers for their service. (Michael Wilson/CBC)
 

Meanwhile, the province says it processed 8,743 COVID-19 tests since its last update, while 3,799 tests are currently waiting to be assessed. 

Elliott said Monday that people should start receiving test results within 24 to 48 hours.

Asked again Monday why Ontario isn't collecting race-based data, Ford said he believes in collecting data based on postal codes, not race. Ford said some geographic areas are "lighting up like a Christmas tree" and that knowing what areas are hardest hit could allow the province to reallocate resources accordingly. 

More long-term care home deaths

Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported in 127 long-term care facilities, according to the province's task force.

Administrators at the Meighen Health Centre, a retirement facility in midtown Toronto operated by The Salvation Army, said Monday that 18 residents had "recently" died after contracting the novel coronavirus. Fifty additional residents and 14 staff have also tested positive, the organization said in an email.

Mountainview Retirement Residence in Halton, Ont. also confirmed one new death on Monday related to COVID-19, bringing the total deaths from the novel coronavirus to nine. An additional 63 residents have tested positive. 

The Ministry of Health says there has been 249 deaths among residents at long-term care homes in the province, while one staff member has died. However the figures provided today by the COVID-19 task force put deaths in long-term care at 367.

Some 34 people have died at Eatonville Care Centre in west Toronto and 138 others have tested positive. Meanwhile, 23 deaths have been reported at Seven Oaks in east Toronto. 

Health officials said on Monday that they've now tested all residents and staff, even if they were asymptomatic, at 21 long-term care homes in the province. 

You can read the full modelling report below. If you're on mobile, click here

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With files from Lucas Powers and Julia Knope

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