Ontario officials call 2,275 new COVID-19 cases concerning, as hospitalizations top 900

Ontario reported another 2,275 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, a single-day record that comes with an important caveat, according to the province.

Single-day record for new cases comes with caveat about data collection, province says

Tamara Dus, director of University Health Network Safety Services, administers a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Toronto yesterday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Ontario reported another 2,275 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, a single-day record that comes with an important caveat, according to the province.

Changes to how Public Health Ontario collects and analyzes cases mean that today's figure includes 2.5 extra hours of data from several health units, artificially inflating the total number — but by how much is not yet clear.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Tuesday that the data swap doesn't mean people should discount today's numbers.

"Those are still disturbing numbers," Elliott said, while advocating for people to follow public health guidelines.

"Please, just celebrate the holidays with your own household."

The new cases include 711 in Toronto (the local count in the city was unaffected by the data changes), as well as 586 in Peel Region, 185 in Windsor-Essex and 154 in York Region.

They come as hospitalizations in Ontario near highs not seen since the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in the spring. 

64 more hospitalizations than Monday

The number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped considerably today, up to 921 from 857 yesterday, an increase of 64. Of those, 249 are being treated in intensive care and 156 require the use of a ventilator, up five and seven, respectively, from yesterday.

At the height of the first wave, hospitalizations topped out at 1,043, while ICU admissions peaked at 264.

The recent spike has prompted Ontario Health to order hospitals across the province to prepare to activate emergency plans immediately, according to a memo obtained by CBC News on Tuesday. 

For hospitals in the grey lockdown and red control zones, that means making available up to 15 per cent of their beds for COVID-19 patients. You can read more about that here

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

  • Hamilton: 99
  • Durham Region: 92
  • Waterloo Region: 71
  • Halton Region: 65
  • Niagara Region: 65
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 55
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 37
  • Middlesex-London: 31
  • Brant County: 28
  • Southwestern: 21
  • Huron Perth: 12
  • Haldimand-Norfolk: 11
  • Eastern Ontario: 11

Due to a one-time data clean-up, Ottawa reported -9 cases.

(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.)

At the province's daily news conference Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford called Ontario's numbers "concerning." When asked if he would consider a larger shutdown in the weeks after the holidays, Ford said "everything is on the table."

The Ministry of Education also reported 319 new cases that are school-related: 270 students, 48 staff members and one person who was not identified. Some 913 of Ontario's 4,828 publicly funded schools, or about 18.9 per cent, have at least one case of COVID-19, while 20 schools are currently closed because of the illness.

The new cases push the seven-day average to 1,927, a new high. 

Positivity rate at 5.3%

The record comes as Ontario's network of labs processed just 39,556 test samples and reported a positivity rate of 5.3 per cent.

There are currently 17,031 confirmed, active infections of the novel coronavirus provincewide, the most at any time during the pandemic.

Public health officials also reported another 20 deaths linked to the illness, bringing the official toll to 3,992.

Meanwhile, the early stages of the province's expansive immunization campaign, which began yesterday with the first shots administered in Toronto, continues today.

Hundreds more front-line health-care workers are expected to get shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at locations in Toronto and Ottawa throughout the day. The doses arrived in Canada late Sunday night. 

Ford said Tuesday that 142 health-care workers had been vaccinated as of noon, with another 325 vaccinations expected at University Health Network today and another 325 tomorrow.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel. There's hope for everyone out there now," Ford said.

'An incredible moment'

Retired general Rick Hillier, head of the province's COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, told reporters that seeing people receive the province's first vaccinations on Monday was an emotional moment.

"It was an incredible moment for us," he said.

Hillier said the province hopes to have 1.2 million Ontarians vaccinated within the first quarter of 2021, with priority to health-care workers and vulnerable populations in the province's hot zones.

"We're going to roll it out as quickly as possible," Hillier said, while adding it also depends on supply.

And the chief medical adviser at Health Canada says things are on track for her department to approve a second vaccine for the virus very soon.

Dr. Supriya Sharma says things "look positive" for the vaccine from U.S. biotech firm Moderna but there are still some outstanding manufacturing documents needed before the decision can be made.

Ongoing reviews of two more vaccines are less certain, with AstraZeneca's potentially needing more study before Health Canada is ready to make a decision, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate's review still in the very early stages.

Health Canada approved the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech Dec. 9.

Health-care workers in Toronto and long-term care residents in Montreal and Quebec City were the first to receive the vaccine Monday morning.

Health workers in Manitoba and Alberta are set to follow Wednesday and most other provinces intend to start vaccinating priority groups by the weekend.

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


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