Ontario reports 4,094 new COVID-19 cases as number in ICUs, on ventilators reach new highs

Ontario reported 4,094 new daily cases of COVID-19 on Saturday as the number of patients in intensive care units and on ventilators reached new highs.

Premier Doug Ford calls for stricter border measures due to threat of B1617 variant

Eduardo Teodoro, 75, recovers from COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at Centenary Hospital in Scarborough on April 8, 2021. As of Friday, 833 patients were in intensive care units due to COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario reported 4,094 new daily cases of COVID-19 on Saturday as the number of patients in intensive care units and on ventilators reached new highs.

As of Friday, there were 2,277 patients in hospital with the virus. A total of 833 people are in intensive care units. And 600 of those patients now require ventilators to breathe.

The province also reported 24 more deaths linked to the virus, bringing the official death toll to 7,887. 

Hospitals across the province have been stretched to capacity recently amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in the third wave.

Ornge, the organization in charge of patient transport, says patients are being moved in record numbers mostly by its critical-care land ambulances, but also by its helicopters and airplanes, and with the help of local paramedic services. 

Between April 1 and April 23, Ornge said 747 patients were transferred to out-of-town facilities to make room for new patients.

To put that figure into context, 209, 217 and 242 patients were transferred in January, February and March, respectively.

In response to the recent rise in hospitalizations, the province said on Saturday that it is making changes to provide "alternate level of care" for hospitalized patients who are waiting for a long-term care home placement.

If these patients accept a placement in a home that is not their preferred choice, the province will waive copayments until they can be transferred to a home of their choice. Copayments refer to payments made for a service before it is rendered. In addition, the province said those who accept these placements will maintain priority status on a waitlist for their preferred home.

The ministry says it's also relaxing staffing rules, saying long-term care staff who are fully vaccinated are no longer limited to working in just one facility.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday that his province will send 27 health-care workers to Ontario to help care for patients in hospitals.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the offer was a "massive, massive help."

The province previously said health-care workers from Newfoundland and Labrador were expected to arrive within days.

Cases in Toronto, Peel top 1,000 

Saturday's new cases include 1,014 in Peel Region, 406 in York Region and 1,191 in Toronto, marking the fifteenth straight day the city has seen more than 1,000 new cases. 

The seven-day average of new daily cases fell to 4,094, marking the fourth time that this number has dropped. 

Ontario's lab network completed 52,160 test samples since the last update and logged a test positivity rate of 7.8 per cent. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in cases were:

  • Niagara: 226
  • Durham Region: 199
  • Ottawa: 158
  • Hamilton: 133
  • Waterloo Region: 111
  • Halton Region: 109 
  • Middlesex-London: 96
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 86
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 78
  • Windsor-Essex: 45
  • Eastern Ontario: 32
  • Brant County: 32
  • Haldimand-Norfolk: 31
  • Southwestern: 16
  • Porcupine: 15 
  • Grey Bruce: 14
  • Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge: 14
  • Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District: 12
  • Lambton: 12

Meanwhile, public health units in Toronto and Peel Region are taking steps to control workplace COVID-19 outbreaks.

Peel Public Health said on Saturday it has partially closed two Amazon fulfillment centres in Brampton and Bolton to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Medical officers of health in both regions said any orders to close businesses are designed to protect tens of thousands of essential workers.

Both regions said the orders would close businesses that have had outbreaks of five or more linked cases in the past two weeks. 

Any shutdowns will last 10 days and workers will have to self-isolate during that time.

According to a statement by Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, there are about 10 workplaces under investigation at present, but none have been closed as of yet. 

She said notification to any workplace of actions required under the new order are expected to begin on Monday. 

"The primary objective and principal public health benefit of the Order is to separate employees from one another in workplaces where transmission of COVID-19 is identified and linked to the location." 

She said these workplaces generally do not see high traffic from the general public, partly because of the province's stay-at-home order. 

Ford calls for stricter border measures 

Public Health Ontario has said 36 cases of the B1617 COVID-19 variant first identified in India have been detected in Ontario in recent days.

The agency said six of those cases were detected through its genomics surveillance program, all of them associated with international travel. 

In a statement issued on Saturday, Premier Doug Ford said he is "extremely concerned" about the threat of the new variant and called on the federal government for "more action on our borders now." 

"The images we are seeing from other parts of the world right now are heartbreaking," Ford said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is calling for stricter border measurers as the number of the B1617 coronavirus variant first identified in India continues to rise. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The federal government announced on Thursday that it is banning passenger flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days amid rising COVID-19 case counts in India and concerns about mutations of the coronavirus.

But Ford said the border measures have come "far too late" and "don't do nearly enough." 

He is now calling on the federal government to close all non-essential travel to Canada immediately.

"These deadly new variants are causing devastation in India and other countries. We can't let that happen here," he said. 

In a statement issued on Friday, Public Health Ontario said the remaining cases were identified through the province's airport and border screening programs.

The variant is so far designated as a "variant of interest" by the Public Health Agency of Canada, rather than a "variant of concern." 

Labs also confirmed 2,955 more cases linked to the virus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, bringing the total so far to 49,860.

Age limit for AstraZeneca shot to stay at 40+

On Friday, Ontario said it will not immediately lower eligibility for the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot to those aged 30 and older because of supply issues.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended on Friday that people 30 and older can get a shot of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine if they do not want to wait for an alternative.

The committee had initially recommended the shots for people 55 and older out of an abundance of caution after reports of very rare blood clots. But some provinces, including Ontario, started administering the vaccine to those 40 and older given the current spread of the virus.

People line up at the East York Town Centre on Saturday, April 24. The clinic is open for people in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park for those who are over 18 years old. (Alan Habbick/CBC)

Health Canada has approved the shot for those 18 and older and has said the benefits outweigh the risks.

Dr. Peter Lin, a Toronto doctor who is a medical columnist for CBC Radio, said the age rule was originally put in place because blood clots were being found among young women. 

"Now we know that it doesn't actually have anything to do with your age. It's more about how you're built," he told CBC News on Saturday. 

Not only that, but the rare blood clots — caused by vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) — have been found in older Canadians. A Hamilton man in his 60s was hospitalized with VITT on Friday

With about 337,000 doses of the shot remaining and future shipments not expected until May, the Ontario government will keep offering the vaccine to those aged 40 and older for now, according to a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott.

Public health units collectively administered 126,694 doses of vaccines on Friday, the health ministry said. As of last night, 358,776 people in Ontario had gotten both shots.

The province has used 4,527,368 doses of vaccines it has received to date.

With files from Lucas Powers and The Canadian Press