Ontario reports 3,732 new COVID-19 cases, prepares to expand vaccine rollout this week

Ontario reported 3,732 new cases of COVID-19 and 23 more deaths linked to the virus on Sunday. The latest numbers come as the Ontario government is preparing to expand vaccine eligibility across the province.

ICU admissions, hospitalizations drop as boost in supply of Pfizer-BioNTech expected

A health-care worker holds up a sign at the Downsview Arena in northeast Toronto on April 21, 2021. This clinic is administering the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine to residents aged 18 and older in hot spot neighbourhoods. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario reported 3,732 new cases of COVID-19 and 23 more deaths linked to the virus on Sunday. 

The latest numbers come as the Ontario government announced on Sunday that it is preparing to expand vaccine eligibility across the province as a boost in supply is expected to arrive from Pfizer-BioNTech.

The province said those 18 years of age and older living in one of 114 hot spot communities will be able to book their vaccine appointment through the province's online portal beginning Monday at 8 a.m.

As of Thursday, those turning 50 and over this year in the rest of the province will be able to book a slot through the Ontario booking system or directly through their public health units.

The move follows advice from Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table that 50 per cent of available doses should be sent to 74 hot spots only. 

Allocations in other public health units remain the same. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott said an increase in vaccine supply has enabled the province to accelerate vaccination efforts, especially in areas deemed hot spots.

"Continuing to focus on getting vaccines in the arms of those most at risk will help to stop the spread of COVID-19 in these communities, protect our hospital capacity and save lives," Elliott said.

"I continue to urge everyone to sign up to receive the vaccine as soon as it's your turn."

In a statement on Sunday, the province also said public health units are responsible for managing and overseeing the distribution and administration of vaccines for their entire regions, and public health units may have different vaccine administration rates.

The expanded vaccine rollout includes the following groups:

  • May 3: Adults age 18 and up in hot-spot communities.conditions deemed "high risk"; and some people who cannot work from home.
  • May 6: Ontario adults over the age of 50; those with health conditions deemed "high risk"; and some people who cannot work from home including teachers and school workers; and First Nation, Inuit and Metis people not previously targeted in earlier phases of the immunization drive.
  • Week of May 10: Ontario adults over the age of 40; those with health conditions deemed "at risk" and more individuals who cannot work from home.
  • Week of May 17: Ontario adults over the age of 30. 
  • Week of May 24: Ontario adults over the age of 18. 

ICU admissions, hospitalizations drop slightly 

According to Ontario's health ministry, 1,961 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Sunday morning.

This figure marks the first time that the number of hospitalizations have dropped below 2,000 in more than two weeks. 

Of those hospitalized, 895 are in intensive care units, a slight dip from Saturday. Some 615 patients require ventilators to breathe.

Meanwhile, Ontario's network of labs completed 45,301 test samples since the province provided its last update. The test positivity rate currently sits at 8.5 per cent. 

Elliott said there are 1,198 new cases in Toronto, 797 in Peel Region, 306 in York Region, 237 in Hamilton and 232 in Durham Region.

Ontario also reported more 23 deaths on Sunday, bringing the official death toll to 8,102.

The Ontario health ministry said on Saturday that it hasn't yet activated an ICU triage protocol, although a number of medical professionals said last month they feared they may be forced to start triaging ICU patients within weeks.

Activating a triage would mean the hardest decisions health-care providers ever face will have to be made. These decisions include who gets potentially life-saving care and who doesn't.

Public health units collectively administered 76,685 doses of vaccines since their last update, according to Ontario's health ministry. 

As of Saturday night, 375,280 people in Ontario have gotten both shots. The province has used 5,324,369 doses of vaccines it has received to date.

Meanwhile, Ontario's seven-day average of new daily infections dropped from 3,618 on Saturday and now sits at 3,588.

Reaction mounts following long-term care report 

The latest data follows a scathing report that outlines the province's neglect of long term care homes in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission laid out its recommendations in its final report, delivered to the government on Friday night, calling for an overhaul of the sector.

The commissioners said the government was ill-prepared for a pandemic and failed to act as quickly as other jurisdictions to protect the long-term care sector.

The report said residents were left alone in their rooms in horrific conditions, in some cases soiling their diapers and being unable to shower.

In a statement on Sunday, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) said "the Ontario government owes an apology to the families" of long-term care residents "lost to COVID-19."

The Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission said the government was ill-prepared for a pandemic and failed to act as quickly as other jurisdictions to protect the long-term care sector. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The association is calling on the government to implement immediately a number of recommendations outlined in a June 2020 submission to a long-term care staffing study advisory group, including an accelerated process to increase staffing and achieve the required skill mix endorsed by the commission for safe and dignified care.

"The failings outlined in the commission's report echo systemic issues the association has raised for over two decades, including since 2018 with the Ford government," the statement reads.

"The fate of residents in Ontario LTC homes is once again in the hands of the province. Will the premier accept all the recommendations and act on them expeditiously?"

To date, 3,918 residents and 10 staff at long-term care homes have died with COVID-19. 

Overall, there have been 15,157 cases among residents and 6,967 among staff. 

There are currently 54 active outbreaks at long-term care homes across the province. 

Cases of B117 variant on the rise 

Meanwhile, the B117 coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom continues to be the dominant variant across Canada. 

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said in a tweet on Sunday that the B117 variant is now reported in all provinces and territories and accounts for more than 95 per cent of variants of concern sequenced to date. 

Tam says the B117 variant spreads more quickly and has been associated with increased severity of disease. 

Ontario alone has seen a total of 72,313 cases of the virus. That figure marks an increase of 2,871 from Saturday, meaning it makes up almost 77 per cent of cases reported in the last 24 hours. 

With files from Lucas Powers and The Canadian Press