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Ontario is reporting 75 COVID-19 related deaths, but top doctor says situation is improving

Health-care indicators suggest a general improvement in the COVID 19 situation in the province,Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said Thursday.

As of Wednesday, 2,797 people with COVID-19 in province's hospitals

Dr. Kieran Moore says while the coming weeks 'will continue to be difficult' for the province’s hospital system, the number of hospitalizations is currently stable. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Health-care indicators suggest a general improvement in the COVID 19 situation in the province,Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference, Moore said the percentage of positive tests continues to decrease, with the average this past week declining to 14.6 four per cent from 18.4 per cent the week prior. 

"Based on the current stabilization in Ontario's testing strategy, this is likely reflective of a real decline," Moore said.

"Long term care outbreaks are also declining, and we recently saw the first decline in the number of active resident cases in long-term care since the Omicron variant became the dominant strain. 

"There's also been an increase of wastewater sites across the province reporting a downward trend in COVID-19 detection. These trends are encouraging, but we must remain vigilant and adhere to the measures that are helping reduce transmission," he added.

Coming weeks 'will continue to be difficult'

Meanwhile, Moore said some areas of the province "still have precarious and strained health-care capacity," and more needs to be done to support all regions as Ontario moves ahead with its reopening.

Moore was speaking after the province reported 75 more deaths related to COVID-19 on Thursday.

Moore said while the coming weeks "will continue to be difficult" for the province's hospital system, the number of hospitalizations is currently stable.

There were 541 patients with COVID-19 who required intensive care, down from 555 the day before and 599 the same time last week. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Ministry of Health said Thursday morning that as of Wednesday there were 2,797 people with COVID-19 in the province's hospitals. That's down from 2,939 the day before and 3,645 at the same time last week.

About 56 per cent of those patients were admitted for COVID-related illnesses while 44 per cent were already in hospital when they tested positive for the virus, according to the ministry.

ICU numbers remain high

Meanwhile, Moore said intensive care numbers remain high, but the number of COVID-19 patients is now starting to decrease.

He said the province has increased capacity to provide care to those who need it.

There were 541 patients with COVID-19 who required intensive care, down from 555 the day before and 599 the same time last week.

Roughly 83 per cent of the people with COVID-19 in ICUs were admitted for reasons directly related to the virus.

The additional 75 COVID-19 deaths reported Thursday pushes the province's official toll to 11,651.

At Thursday's news conference, Moore acknowledged the province's educators, parents and students for their dedication to making the return to in-person learning as successful and as safe as possible. 

He said in the last week, approximately 13.3 per cent of students and staff were absent each day, and more than 94 per cent of schools have reported less than 30 per cent of students and staff absent. 

At Thursday’s news conference, Moore acknowledged the province’s educators, parents and students for their dedication to making the return to in-person learning as successful and as safe as possible. (AFP/Getty Images)

"We also saw less than one per cent of schools were closed each day, so only seven out of 4,844 schools, and these closures are typically due to operational challenges, such as staff shortages," Moore said. 

"Keeping our children and youth in school is critical to their mental health and well-being, and I thank you for all the support you're doing for our children's academic success."

Antivirals to help manage impact of virus

Moore said the province has antivirals available to help manage the impact of COVID-19.

But he said due to the limited supply of Paxlovid — an outpatient oral treatment — the province is "prioritizing the distribution to unvaccinated individuals who are at risk of severe outcomes of COVID 19 infection, including hospitalization. 

"This includes unvaccinated seniors aged 60 and over, First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals aged 50 and over, and individuals aged 50 and over with underlying risk factors," Moore said. 

"We are also prioritizing immuno-compromised individuals 18 and over, regardless of their vaccine status."

The chief medical officer of health said the province has antivirals available to help manage the impact of COVID-19. (Pfizer/Reuters)

Moore's briefing comes after modelling from the province's expert pandemic advisers predicted COVID-19 cases would rise after Monday's partial reopening.

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said relaxing public health measures aimed at controlling the Omicron variant would increase virus spread, but the experts couldn't say by how much.

The group said outcomes will depend partly on how many people have recently been infected, a number that is hard to determine because the province has limited access to PCR testing. The province is, however, planning to rely more heavily on rapid antigen tests as supplies arrive from the federal government.

Restaurants, gyms and cinemas among other venues were allowed to reopen to half capacity on Monday with proof-of vaccination rules in place for guests.

Social gathering limits were increased to 10 people indoors and some surgeries that were paused to preserve health system capacity were also allowed to resume.

Easing measures at LTC homes 

The province has outlined a plan to start easing the temporary enhanced measures at long-term care homes put in place in December in the face of the Omicron wave.

CBC News has obtained a copy of a memo, which was sent to all long-term care homes by Erin Hannah, the associate deputy minister for long-term care policy and pandemic response.

Effective Feb. 7, the maximum number of designated caregivers per resident will be increased from two to four (unless designated before Dec. 15). The limit of two visitors (currently only caregivers) at a time per resident, will continue,the memo states.

There will also be a resumption of social day absences for residents who have had at least three COVID-19 vaccine doses, while supporting these residents with information about the benefits of limiting contact with others, including avoiding large social gatherings, following masking and physical distancing as much as possible, and only being in close contact with people who have had three COVID-19 vaccine doses.

According to Hannah, a target date of Feb. 21 has been set for the following:

  • Reopening homes to all general visitors five years and older who have had at least two COVID-19 vaccine doses. Children under five years old would still be restricted from entering a long-term care home, except for infants 12 months or younger. 
  • Increasing limits on the number of visitors (including caregivers) that may visit a resident at one time to three.
  • Expanding social day absences to all residents regardless of vaccination status.
  • Resuming social overnight absences for residents who have had at least three COVID-19 vaccine doses.
  • Resuming adult day programs, entertainers and personal care services (where the person is not a staff member) in the homes. Social group activities should remain as small groups (i.e., up to 10). 

Additionally, a target date of March 14 has been set for the following:

  • Resume visits by general visitors under five years old. No vaccination requirement for those under the age of five.
  • Increasing the limit on the number of visitors (including caregivers) at a time per resident to four.
  • Allowing social overnight absences for all residents regardless of vaccination status.

With files from Desmond Brown and The Canadian Press

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