Ontario sees 2,716 new COVID-19 cases, expands eligibility for vaccines

Ontario reported another 2,716 cases of COVID-19 and 19 more deaths linked to the illness on Monday as the province expanded eligibility for vaccines. It said some health-care workers will not wait four months for a second dose.

Daily case count is fewest on a single day since April

Switch Health nurse Samantha Edgar prepares a does of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Ontario Khalsa Darbar, in Mississauga, Ont., on May 4, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's chief medical officer of health says the province is cautiously optimistic as the COVID-19 case numbers are coming back down. 

"We do have our work ahead of us but we are doing well," Dr. David Williams said at a news conference on Monday afternoon.

Williams said the aim is to get down to under 3,000 cases every day, and "down ideally closer to 2,000 as we progress and continue to drive to getting off the third wave." 

On Monday, Ontario reported another 2,716 cases of COVID-19 and 19 more deaths linked to the illness, while the province expanded eligibility for vaccines and said some health-care workers will not wait four months for a second dose.

The cases are the fewest on a single day since April and come as total hospitalizations, admissions to intensive care and the number of patients on ventilators all dropped for a fifth straight day, according to data from the health ministry.

'We are coming down off the third wave'

"We are bending the curve. We are coming down off the third wave, but we want to get down the third wave totally," Williams said.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

"We didn't get down the second wave totally before the third wave hit [and] that has added immense stress to our health-care system. We don't want to repeat that again.

"We are going to have to be very careful as we go down to make sure we are well off and we are in a state where we can ease off the pressure on our health-care system and get elective surgeries back booked," Williams added.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, says the province is cautiously optimistic as COVID-19 case numbers are coming back down.  (CBC)

Williams also shared his ideal target for the COVID-19 numbers before the stay-at-home order is lifted.

"I think our target in my mind has to be lower than 1,000," he said.

But he said discussions are being held with the province's public-health measures table to determine the number, given the COVID-19 variants and how quickly they spread.

"As you've seen in  some areas, the numbers seem very low [but] within a week those have escalated and caused major outbreaks," Williams said.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, says the province continues to 'see some improvement' as hospitalizations and ICU admissions 'do continue to slowly decline.' (CBC)

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, said the province wants people to be fully immunized before opening the gates to people getting together.

"We are getting there but I don't think we're there yet. We have very high full vaccination rates in long-term care and retirement homes where we have on average up to 100 per cent of residents vaccinated, fully immunized," she said.

"But in general, we are waiting for people to be more fully immunized."

Province seeing 'some improvement'

As of yesterday, there were 1,632 people with COVID-19-related illnesses in hospitals. Of those, 828 were being treated in ICUs and 547, or about two thirds, required ventilation, the ministry said.

Yaffe said the province continues to "see some improvement" as hospitalizations and ICU admissions "do continue to slowly decline."

But she said: "The numbers are still too high."

Meanwhile, Ontario's fiscal watchdog, the Financial Accountability Office (FAO), estimated in a report today that it will take the province about three-and-a-half years to clear the surgical backlog from the pandemic. 

The FAO said it expects that by the end of September 2021, some 419,200 procedures will have been cancelled due to COVID-19 and that $1.3 billion will be needed to clear the backlog. The provincial government allocated $610 million specifically to this effort in its latest budget.

Speaking to reporters at Queen's Park, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that anyone whose "life is in danger" will be prioritized for procedures and "will get their surgery."

She noted that, despite the pandemic, the majority of Ontario hospitals hit their surgical targets last year, with more than 420,000 procedures completed since hospitals were first ordered to halt non-emergency operations in the spring of last year.

Meanwhile, labs completed just 27,175 tests and Public Health Ontario logged a provincewide positivity rate of 9.1 per cent. Testing levels have fallen off on weekends throughout the pandemic, but today's number is the fewest on a single day since mid-February.

The seven-day average of daily cases fell to 3,017. It has been trending downward since April 17.

Another 3,110 infections were marked resolved in today's provincial update. There are about 31,991 confirmed, active cases in Ontario. 

The 16 additional deaths reported today bring the official toll to 8,327. The seven-day average of deaths climbed to 29.9, topping the previous third-wave peak.

Updates to vaccine rollout

Public health units collectively administered 94,903 doses of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday, the health ministry said, the most-ever on a Sunday. As with testing, the province has struggled to hit its vaccination targets on weekends.

Roughly 5.84 million people, or about 49 per cent of all adults in Ontario, had had at least one dose of a vaccine as of Sunday evening.

The province has administered 6,238,778, or just over 88 per cent, of the 7,056,415 doses it has received to date.

The government announced this morning it is expanding eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday to more residents classified as "cannot work from home," including grocery store and restaurant workers. More people with certain health conditions, such as heart disease, dementia, asthma and diabetes, will also be able to try to book an appointment starting tomorrow.

Similarly, health-care workers treating patients who have COVID-19 or are at-risk of contracting the illness won't have to wait four months for a second dose of vaccine, the province said. That includes those who work in intensive care, emergency departments and first responders.

All Ontarians aged 40 and older will be eligible to book an appointment for a first shot as of Thursday.

Ontario likely to mix vaccines, health minister says

The province expects millions of doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to arrive throughout May and June. There is still no clear date on when more shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine might be expected.

Elliott said it is "very likely" that Ontario will need to mix vaccines in order to get second doses to those Ontarians who have already gotten a first shot of AstraZeneca.

Ontario's scientific advisors are closely watching results from the United Kingdom, where health authorities have been mixing vaccines for months, she added. The province is also awaiting revised guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which is expected to take a position on mixing doses in the coming weeks.

"I expect that should come very soon because there are some people who are coming up in terms of times for their second shots," Elliott said.

She also suggested that Ontario's current stay-at-home order, which is set to expire on May 20, will likely be extended.

"We're going to have to see our numbers go down," she told media. "The medical experts have been very clear that we need to stay the course for right now."

Over the weekend, hundreds of pharmacies in designated hot spots began offering shots to anyone aged 18 and up. The province quietly made the change without an official announcement.

The move led to a scramble in many neighbourhoods of Toronto, where people relying on tips found on social media lined up outside pharmacy locations.

With files from Lucas Powers and Desmond Brown