Ontario pauses plan to lift capacity limits in higher-risk settings 'out of abundance of caution'

Ontario reported 454 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths linked to the illness on Wednesday, as the seven-day average of daily infections topped 500.

7-day average of daily cases topped 500 for 1st time in nearly a month

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said this week that officials expected a rise in COVID-19 cases as the cold weather sets in, and that the province's reopening plan accounts for that anticipated increase. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario is pausing its plan to lift capacity limits in remaining higher-risk settings "out of an abundance of caution as the province monitors public health trends."

Capacity limits and physical distancing will remain in place for the time being for night clubs, event spaces where there is dancing (for example, those that host wedding receptions), strip clubs and other such venues where proof of vaccination is required.

Limits were set to be lifted on Nov. 15. Instead, the province now says it will monitor data for 28 days from that point to determine when it is safe to proceed with lifting limits in these settings.

"While Ontario has continued to make progress as a result of its safe and cautious approach to reopening, it is necessary to make this deliberate pause as we approach the winter holidays where more people will begin gathering indoors and where students will be returning to in-class learning in January after celebrating with friends and family," said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health in a news release Wednesday.

As the weather gets colder, Moore said at a news conference, infection rates will likely fluctuate or increase over the coming months.

Transmission right now is predominantly happening in younger age groups and among the unvaccinated, he said, adding higher rates of infection are being seen among the 20-39 age group in social settings where there is close contact. 

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"This virus is not going away," Moore warned, encouraging anyone not yet vaccinated to go get immunized as soon as possible.

Moore also said he was "disconcerted" to hear of some establishments not asking patrons to show their QR codes, reminding that there may be fines of thousands of dollars if they are caught not employing vaccine verification processes.

On a similar note, Moore was asked about the use of counterfeit vaccine certificates at larger venues such as sports arenas and stadiums, however the chief medical officer of health did not immediately commit to scrapping use of the previous non-QR-code certificates. 

But Ontario will not take steps "backwards," he said, adding rising rates of infection will be fought with regional public health measures. 

7-day average in daily cases once again above 500

The news comes as the province reported 454 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths linked to the illness on Wednesday, with the seven-day average of daily infections topping 500.

Wednesday's case count is a 20 per cent increase over the same time last week, when Ontario logged 378 new infections, and marks a 10th straight day of week-over-week jumps.

The seven-day average climbed to 503, a level last seen in mid-October. Last Wednesday, the seven-day average sat at 379.

The most recent estimate from Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table is that, as of Nov. 5, cases are doubling every 17 days. Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of the table, has previously said that case counts become especially concerning when they are doubling every seven to eight days.

While there has been a recent rise in new infections, the burden of COVID-19 on hospitals has remained relatively stable. Of as Tuesday, there were 136 patients being treated for COVID-related illnesses in the province's intensive care units. 

Meanwhile, nine more deaths were reported Wednesday, pushing the official toll to 9,912. 

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

Tests in the previous 24 hours: 33,364, with a 1.8 per cent provincewide positivity rate.

Active cases: 4,053.

Vaccinations: 15,257 doses were administered by public health units on Tuesday.. Nearly 85.3 per cent of eligible Ontarians have had two shots.