Toronto

Ontario staying the course on COVID-19 reopening plan despite recent rise in cases: health minister

Today's case count of 441 is a roughly 33 per cent jump from last Tuesday, when Ontario logged 331 infections. It marks a ninth straight day of week-over-week increases in cases.

Ontario logged 441 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, highest test positivity since mid-September

The seven-day average of test posivitiy rates has been steadily rising in Ontario. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Ontario reported 441 new cases of COVID-19 and its highest provincewide test positivity rate since mid-September on Tuesday, with the health minister saying the government has no plans to change course on its reopening plan despite a rise in infections.

Today's case count is a roughly 33 per cent jump from last Tuesday, when Ontario logged 331 infections. It marks a ninth straight day of week-over-week increases in cases.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases climbed to 492. Last Tuesday, it was 371.

Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table now estimates the province's effective reproduction number at 1.26, meaning transmission of the virus is once again growing exponentially after a sustained period of contraction.

Public Health Ontario reported a 3.1 per cent positivity rate on 19,368. For comparison, one week ago, 20,148 tests produced a positivity rate of 1.5.

Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said Monday the rise in daily case counts over the last week comes after the province lifted capacity restrictions on venues like stadiums and restaurants and the weather became cooler, forcing  people indoors.

Province knew bump was coming, Elliott says

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday morning, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the bump in new cases was built into the province's plan. She said if restrictions are reintroduced it will be by region and most likely led by local medical officers of health because they have the best knowledge of their areas and what must be done.

She pointed to a decision by Sudbury's top doctor to reintroduce capacity limits and other measures in response to a significant rise in cases, and said the province will take a local approach with the rest of the province too.

"We're going to stay the course at this point, but of course we're looking at the situation every day," Elliott told reporters.

The government plans to gradually ease public health restrictions until all measures including mask requirements and proof of vaccination by the end of next March. Restaurants, stadiums, gyms, casinos and other spaces that accept proof of vaccination can currently operate at full capacity.

The province aims to start lifting proof-of-vaccination rules on some businesses like restaurants, bars and gyms in January as long as the COVID-19 situation doesn't get worse.

Elliott said that even with the rising cases, the province's relatively high vaccination rate — with about 85.2 per cent of the eligible population having received both shots — is making a difference with fewer people now hospitalized in intensive care.

"We don't want to be overwhelmed again, but I think that shows the value of the double vaccination," she said. "It will save your life."

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

Newly reported school-related cases: 181 between Friday afternoon and Monday afternoon, including 159 students and 17 staff members. Three of Ontario's 4,844 publicly funded schools are closed due to COVID-19.

Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 134, a slight uptick from 127 on Monday. Of those, 78 relied on a ventilator to breathe.

Active cases: 4,022.

Newly reported deaths: Three, pushing the official toll to 9,903.

Vaccinations: 13,049 doses were administered by public health units on Monday. About 85.2 per cent of eligible Ontarians have had two shots.

With files from The Canadian Press

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