Ontario to begin vaccinations next week in Toronto, Ottawa

Ontario will administer its first COVID-19 vaccines next Tuesday at two hospitals in Toronto and Ottawa, the province confirmed Thursday as it recorded a record high number of new daily cases.

Province could see 2,500 daily cases of COVID-19 by month's end if virus spreads at current rate

The number of patients in Ontario ICUs climbed to 228, the most during the second wave of the illness in the province. The first-wave high for ICU admissions was 264. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario will administer its first COVID-19 vaccines next Tuesday at two hospitals in Toronto and Ottawa, the province confirmed Thursday as it recorded a record high number of new daily cases.

The province will receive 6,000 doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. The University Health Network in Toronto and the Ottawa Hospital will give the first shots to health-care workers from long-term care homes and other high-risk settings, said retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who is leading Ontario's vaccine task force.

"We are going to come after people who are in most vulnerable circumstances and our health care workers first and get them vaccinated because the tragedy has been visited upon them most," he said.

Hillier said the province anticipates it will receive 90,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of December and will distribute it to 13 hospitals across Ontario.

He said Ontario may also receive between 30,000 and 85,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the new year, provided it is approved by Health Canada in the coming weeks.

More details are set to be provided on Friday, Premier Doug Ford said in a news release.

Toronto has been hard hit during the first and second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ottawa, which recorded just 56 new cases on Thursday, was selected in part to "test and validate provincial distribution networks, as well as in recognition of the challenges the region has faced with certain long-term care home outbreaks," the premier said.

Ontario reported single-day highs of 1,983 new COVID-19 cases and nearly 62,000 tests earlier Thursday.

The additional cases include 515 in Peel Region, 496 in Toronto, 208 in York Region and 112 in Windsor-Essex.

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Hamilton: 75
  • Waterloo Region: 65
  • Middlesex-London: 61
  • Ottawa: 56
  • Durham Region: 55
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 55
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 54
  • Halton Region: 51
  • Niagara Region: 35
  • Eastern Ontario: 23
  • Southwestern: 17
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington: 17
  • Thunder Bay: 13
  • Brant County: 11
  • Renfrew County: 11

(Note: All of the figures used for new cases in this story are found on the Ontario Health Ministry's COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit because local units report figures at different times.)

The Ministry of Education also reported 139 new cases that are school-related: 111 students and 28 staff members. Some 878 of Ontario's 4,828 publicly funded schools, or about 18.2 per cent, have at least one case of COVID-19, while 10 schools are currently closed because of the illness.

The new cases push the seven-day average to 1,862, the highest it has been since the first instance of COVID-19 was reported in Ontario in late January.

There are currently 16,233 confirmed, active infections of the novel coronavirus province-wide, the most at any point during the pandemic. 

They come as Ontario's network of labs processed 61,809 test samples for the novel coronavirus — the most on a single day by a considerable margin — and reported a test positivity rate of 3.6 per cent. Another 66,326 test samples are in the queue waiting to be analyzed.

Furthermore, hospitalization figures all hit second-wave highs in today's update. There are now 829 patients with cases of COVID-19 in Ontario hospitals. Of those, 228 are being treated in intensive care units, while 132 people require the use of a ventilator.

Ontario also recorded 35 more deaths linked to the illness, bringing the official total to 3,871. 

All schools to close in Windsor on Monday

In the Windsor area, the local public health unit announced Thursday that all schools would be closed starting on Monday due to rising rates of COVID-19.

For a third straight day, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is not scheduled to take any questions from media. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford has typically made himself and often top cabinet ministers available to answer queries from reporters. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Premier Ford not holding news conference

For a third straight day, Premier Doug Ford is not scheduled to take any questions from media. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford has typically made himself and often top cabinet ministers available to answer queries from reporters.

In a story published this morning, CTV News reported that Ford's office said he would no longer be doing daily news conferences, opting instead to face media only when he "has an update for Ontarians."

CBC News reached out to Ford's office for confirmation, but the premier's spokesperson declined to directly answer the query, saying only that Ford would be attending the first ministers meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later today.

Earlier this week, the Ontario legislature adjourned for the holidays earlier than expected and lawmakers won't return until mid-February, meaning the government will not face public questioning from the opposition parties until then.

Updated COVID-19 projections released

Ontario's current lockdown measures have not had nearly as much of an impact on people's mobility — and therefore likely their contacts — as it did during the first wave of the pandemic, new provincial figures released Thursday show.

According to the latest provincial modelling, relaxation of current public health interventions would likely lead to even higher case growth.

"There is a lot of people on the move. We have to get that down and limit that somehow," said Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health. Williams said he will be recommending some parts of Ontario move up in the province's colour-coded framework, with announcements coming Friday.

Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health and co-chair of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, said Ontario's control over the pandemic remains "precarious" at the moment.

Brown said at around zero per cent growth, Ontario will see around 2,000 cases a day. But a higher rate of growth would see a number of cases at a "much, much higher level," he said. At around three per cent growth, he said, Ontario could see around 4,000 new cases a day.

The figures show that cases continue to grow while per cent positivity looks to be flattening. "This is a small bit of good news," Brown said, though he added that the impact of the pandemic still varies "widely" across, and even within, public health units.

Modelling shows that mortality, both in long-term care and overall, continues to increase, and may top 25 deaths a day within a month. That number may seem small, Brown said, but it is significant enough to "put it among the most important causes of death in the province on a daily basis," he said.

ICU occupancy, meanwhile, will likely continue to stay above 200 beds for the next month and might go higher, especially if public health measures are relaxed. This also means access to care deficits will persist, according to the province — meaning some medical procedures will be pushed off.

There has been a 91.6 per cent increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the last month, alongside a 165.9 per cent increase in patients treated in ICUs, the province's latest figures show.

You can read the new projections in detail for yourself here:

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Meanwhile, the province's fiscal watchdog warned that people in Ontario could face higher taxes or service cuts as municipalities face billions of dollars in COVID-19-related expenses.

Pandemic to cost municipalities $6.8B over 2 years

Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman said the pandemic will cost Ontario municipalities $6.8 billion over two years.

He also warned that while the joint federal-provincial restart agreement inked earlier this year provided $4 billion in relief, and municipalities will find some savings, a $2.4-billion shortfall exists for the coming year.

Barring further intervention from upper levels of government, the costs will fall to local taxpayers, he said.

"Every municipality will be different; some will have more, some will have less, but nevertheless, there's still a gap," Weltman said. "The only way to make that up for municipalities is either cutting services, or raising taxes."

Municipal leaders have been calling for help from the provincial and federal governments to help with the funding shortage. Toronto Mayor John Tory called for a "Safe Restart 2.0" agreement for municipalities in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford.

Tory said Toronto is forecasting a $1.5-billion deficit by the end of 2021.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said Thursday that municipalities will get more information on a second phase of funding before the end of the year.

Outbreaks closing units at Mississauga hospitals

A hospital network in Mississauga in Peel Region has closed some of its units to admissions after 36 staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Trillium Health Partners said all three of its facilities are experiencing outbreaks, which have also sickened 10 patients.

The outbreaks include the Credit Valley Hospital's emergency department and medicine unit, as well the Mississauga Hospital's cardiac surgical ICU and another unit.

The outbreaks also include two floors at Queensway Health Care in Toronto.

The hospital network said the emergency department at Credit Valley, where four health-care workers tested positive, remains open and safe.

All affected staff are isolating at home, a spokesperson for the health network said.

With files from Lucas Powers, Adam Carter and The Canadian Press

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