Ontario sees 129 new COVID-19 cases; more than 67% of eligible residents fully vaccinated

Ontario reported another 129 cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of five more people with the illness on Tuesday.

5 more COVID-linked deaths push official toll to 9,321

Kenny Huynh, 24, gets his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Dr. Rachel Spitzer at a temporary clinic for residents of Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood earlier this year. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario reported another 129 cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of five more people with the illness on Tuesday.

Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health's daily provincial update:

Seven-day average of daily cases: 154; after a precipitous decline that began in late April and continued until about two weeks ago, the seven-day average has levelled out, hovering between 150 and 160 since then.

Tests completed: 13,644

Provincewide test positivity rate: 1 per cent

Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 127, with 81 needing a ventilator to breathe

Death toll: 9,321

Vaccinations: 92,035; roughly 67.3 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and older have had two shots of vaccine

Back-to-school plan overdue, Opposition says

The Ontario NDP issued a statement this morning, calling on Premier Doug Ford and his government to release their plan to keep students and their families safe as in-class teaching resumes in September.

Today marks six weeks out to the first day of classes for most publicly-funded schools in the province. It is also the last day adolescents aged 12 to 17, the youngest cohort eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in the province, can get a first dose in time to have both shots and develop stronger immunity before the academic year gets underway.

Roughly 42 per cent of Ontario youth aged 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, while about 65 per cent have had at least one shot.

"With the six-week countdown now on to the first day of school, parents need to know how the government will keep their children safe while ensuring an uninterrupted, in-person school year complete with extracurriculars," NDP education critic Marit Stiles said in a statement.

Speaking yesterday, Ford said that students would indeed be returning to school for in-person instruction, and that a comprehensive plan would be released soon, though he did not specify when.

On Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said a plan could be expected in a matter of weeks.

Moore urged students between the ages of 12 and 17 to get vaccinated if they haven't yet.

"It's time to act so Ontario's youth can begin the school year as safely and normally as possible," he said.

Moore offered an early look at options the government is considering, noting that mandatory immunization for students is "not a necessary tool in our toolkit just yet."

He added that the province is still evaluating what mask requirements will be most appropriate. It could vary depending on region, he said, or based on the delta variant. 

Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, said that a return to school is "absolutely manageable" given a number of key conditions are met and health measures put in place.

Masking, cohorting and physical distancing whenever possible should remain in place, Jüni said. Ventilation systems need to be "optimized," he added, and portable air purifiers used in any indoor facilities where the ventilation is inadequate on its own.

Jüni also stressed the importance of vaccinations for adolescents and their family members, as well as educators and other staff. Children under 12 are not currently eligible for vaccines, he also noted, so there remains a risk for those students.

Recent evidence suggests that between two and five per cent of children under 12 who become infected with the virus experience symptoms of "long COVID," Jüni told CBC Radio's Metro Morning

The cause of some of those symptoms are not entirely understood, and there may be others that are not yet known. 

While Jüni made a plea for Ontarians to get vaccinated against the illness, he stopped short of recommending a mandate for educators or eligible students.

The province should also remain in Step 3 of its reopening plan, Jüni said, without further loosening restrictions until some time later in the school year. The safety of schools will rely heavily on the number of COVID-19 cases in the wider community, he said. 

Ontario moved into Step 3 on July 16 and the government could theoretically continue lifting public health measures as soon as Aug. 6. The province hasn't said exactly what the next step looks like, though Ford has suggested that most restrictions would be lifted entirely (though masks will remain a requirement in many indoor settings).

"We should enjoy what we have now and focus on school reopenings," Jüni said.