Ontario in 'precarious situation,' health officials say, as new modelling shows slower COVID-19 growth

Ontario reported another 1,478 cases of COVID-19 and 21 more deaths linked to the illness on Thursday. 

Province also reported 1,478 more cases, 21 more deaths

The government has released new COVID-19 projections for Ontario. It's the first updated outlook since Toronto and Peel moved into lockdown, and the threshold for the red alert level was lowered. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

COVID-19 growth rates are slowing in Ontario, new provincial modelling shows — but health officials warn the province is not yet seeing the decline in cases that would be needed before any restrictions are loosened.

At a Thursday afternoon news conference, Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said key indicators for the pandemic are flattening in some regions, but the virus's impact still varies widely across the province.

In Ontario's last round of modelling released weeks ago, officials said the province was looking at a growth rate in daily cases of between three and six per cent. In the last few days, that growth rate has been between zero and one per cent, Brown said.

"It is best described as a fragile or precarious situation," he said.

(You can read through the new modelling yourself at the bottom of this story.)

If Ontario maintains its current growth rate, Brown said, it's expected the province will see a similar number of daily cases by the end of December to what it has seen this week, in and around the 1,500 mark. That's well below a range of 4,000 to 6,500 daily cases that was presented as a possibility in the province's last round of modelling.

"If, however, it goes in a very bad direction and we see from today on that kind of growth we were seeing two weeks ago, you will see a north of 9,000 cases [by the end of December]," Brown said.

According to the province's new figures, ICU occupancy continues to increase and will hit 200 beds in December. Government officials have long said 150 beds was the threshold at which medical procedures would be impacted in Ontario, though Premier Doug Ford has said more capacity is being added. Brown said it's expected that ICU occupancy will continue to increase in the coming days.

Also according to the province's new figures, cases in long-term care are flattening, but cumulative mortality has increased, with 64 deaths in the last week alone.

Hospitalizations are also continuing to rise, with a 63.2 per cent increase in the last four weeks.

"Even with cases flattening, hospitalizations are going to grow for a while," Brown said.

Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 1,478 cases of COVID-19 and 21 more deaths linked to the illness on Thursday. 

The new cases include 572 in Peel, a single-day record for the region, as well as 356 in Toronto and 111 in York. 

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

  • Waterloo Region: 64
  • Hamilton: 59
  • Durham Region: 47
  • Windsor-Essex: 42
  • Halton Region: 36
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 29
  • Ottawa: 24
  • Niagara Region: 23
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 18
  • Middlesex-London: 14
  • Huron Perth: 11

There are also 88 school-related infections, 70 students and 18 staff members. There are 679 publicly-funded schools in Ontario, or about 14 per cent, with at least one reported instance of COVID-19. Four schools are closed due to outbreaks.

[Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health'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.]

Dr. David Williams, the province's medical officer of health, said Thursday that officials are not recommending that any other regions go into lockdown at this time, but there will be some movement of regions within the province's colour zone framework Friday.

Asymptomatic testing coming to some schools

Ford said Thursday the province is bringing additional resources to areas of Ontario it has deemed "high risk."

That includes voluntary, asymptomatic COVID-19 testing in schools in Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa.

The province has also earmarked $13.6 million in funding to provide extra support to school boards in Durham, Halton, Hamilton and Waterloo, Ford said.

"We have to be even more vigilant than ever," he said.

Thursday's cases drove the seven-day average up to 1,423 after two days of declines. 

There are 12,871 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 provincewide, 92 more than yesterday. 

Ontario's network of labs processed 47,576 test samples for the novel coronavirus and reported a test positivity rate of 3.9 per cent. 

The province's official death toll now sits at 3,575.

When asked in advance for his thoughts on the new modelling, Ford said he was concerned about what he's seeing.

"I'm still concerned that the numbers are going to continue rising," Ford said. "We can't let our guard down for a second. We have to be vigilant."

Questions over vaccine rollout

Both Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday they have questions for Justin Trudeau, after the Prime Minister suggested the United States, United Kingdom and Germany might get the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine. In each of those countries, it has been suggested that vaccinations could start in December.

On Wednesday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told CBC's Power & Politics that Canada should "start to receive" vaccine doses in January.

Ford said Thursday that Ontario needs to know when a vaccine is coming, how many doses the province will get, and which specific vaccines it will receive.

"Three simple questions that we need answers for," Ford said. "We need answers because we have to start planning."

Elliott called the situation "very concerning," as she believed these details had been finalized by the federal government. The health minister had previously given estimates of thousands of doses, and said the province would receive vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna between January and March.

But Federal officials largely kept mum on the details, and did not confirm how many doses Canada might receive.

"Our understanding was that this had been finalized by the federal government. Now it appears maybe it is not," Elliott said. "So it's really incumbent on the prime minister to stand up for Canada and make sure that we get our share of the vaccines during the time frames that they originally stated."

New isolation centre in Peel

Also today, the Public Health Agency of Canada announced $6.5 million in funding for an isolation centre in Peel Region. The site will initially have 40 rooms, though there is capacity for as many as 80, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said. 

The money is meant to cover operational costs, as well as costs for transportation and social services, for up to 16 months. Anyone in the region with a confirmed case of COVID-19 who says they do not have the ability to self-isolate will be eligible to use the isolation centre, said Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel's medical officer of health. 

The announcement has drawn scrutiny because the facility will be in Mississauga, rather than Brampton. According to Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, the city is experiencing the highest test positivity rate in Canada and accounts for 62 per cent of all cases in the region.

Brown wrote to Hajdu this week about the "urgent need" for an isolation centre in Brampton.

Loh said the decision to put the initial site in Mississauga was about "expediency" but that more could be opened in Peel in the weeks to come.

On mobile and can't see the document? View it here.

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


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