Ontario reports 3,947 new COVID-19 cases and 24 more deaths

Ontario reported 3,947 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday as the number of patients in intensive care units once again reached a record high. 

Number of patients in ICUs once again reached pandemic high

People await their COVID-19 vaccinations at the East York Town Centre on Saturday, April 24. The clinic is open to people 18 and older in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park. (Alan Habbick/CBC)

Ontario reported 3,947 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday as the number of patients in intensive care units once again reached a record high. 

The province registered 24 more deaths linked to the virus, bringing the official death toll to 7,911.

Sunday's daily case count marks the third time in the past week that the province has seen fewer than 4,000 new cases. 

Some 2,126 people in the province remain in hospital because of the disease, a figure that has consistently been trending upward since the start of the third wave of the pandemic. 

Of the patients hospitalized, 851 are in intensive care units. Similar to hospitalizations, that figure has been steadily increasing in recent weeks and has reached a record high each day for the past nineteen days.

Some 596 patients require ventilators to breathe.

N.L. health care workers coming to Ontario

Last week, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey offered Ontario relief and support in the form of personnel, expertise and extra equipment to help the province as it battles the third wave of the pandemic. 

In a tweet on Sunday, Furey said he has been speaking with Premier Doug Ford about the details regarding health care professionals heading to Ontario. 

"Looks like they'll be on their way Tuesday!" Furey said.

He said an update is expected on Monday. 

Meanwhile, Sunday's new cases include 901 in Peel Region and 406 in York Region. Toronto alone reported 1,136, marking the sixteenth straight day the city has seen more than 1,000 new cases. 

Meanwhile, Ontario's network of labs completed 46,694 test samples since the last update and logged a test positivity rate of 8.7 per cent

The seven-day average of new daily cases fell to 4,051.

Public health units collectively administered 99,535 doses of vaccines on Saturday, the health ministry said. As of Saturday night, 360,354 people in Ontario had gotten both shots.

The province has used 4,626,903 doses of vaccines it has received to date.

Pandemic payments expected Monday for Ontario parents

Meanwhile, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced on Sunday that a new round of pandemic payments will be coming for parents across the province. 

Starting Monday, payments will be made to parents through the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit program to help working parents of preschool children, those in junior and senior kindergarten through to Grade 12, and up to age 21 for children and youth with special needs.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a new round of pandemic payments on Sunday for parents across the province. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Individuals who previously received the Support for Learners payments will not be required to reapply, and instead will automatically receive payment. 

"COVID-19 has imposed many costs on moms, dads and caregivers across the province, and we are committed to helping them through this incredible challenge," Lecce said in a statement.

Vaccinate people in hot spots, advisory table says

The province said it was hoping its recently increased vaccination efforts, which included making the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot available to residents 40 and older, would reduce the number of infections. 

But a group of experts advising the government believes the provincial strategy may need an overhaul.

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table issued a report on Friday that said focusing on hot-spot neighbourhoods where COVID-19 infection rates are highest and residents are less able to work from home would reduce hospitalizations by 14 per cent and deaths by 11 per cent.

The group of scientific experts and health system leaders said the current approach, which has largely focused on vaccinating people based on age, health condition or status as a resident of a congregate care setting, has left some of those most at risk least likely to receive a shot.

Dr. Peter Jüni, the scientific director of the province's COVID-19 advisory table, said vaccinating hot spots is key to herd immunity. 

"If we want to get this under control, we need a really short list of essential workplaces that need to stay open," he told CBC News on Sunday. 

"Then we need to make sure that people are being paid in a practical way if they are sick." 

WATCH | New report highlights need to vaccinate essential workers:

Why vaccinating Ontario hot spots is key to herd immunity

1 year ago
Duration 10:01
A new report from Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table says reallocating vaccines to coronavirus hot spots will help reduce case counts, hospitalizations and deaths.

Although Ontario has announced it is creating an enhanced paid sick leave program, Jüni said it doesn't go far enough. 

"We've seen the premier struggling with a laptop," Jüni said. "When you think about that, how is it for an essential worker that needs to apply for sick leave?" 

Instead, Jüni said the burden should be on the employer to apply for paid sick leave on behalf of their employees. 

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath agrees. 

"We need a program that's easy, that people don't have to jump through hoops to obtain, that is immediate," she told CBC News on Sunday. 

"People are losing their lives. Entire families are ending up in ICUs and we just have to stop the spread because, as you know, our hospital system is buckling and it's impacting everybody in Ontario." 

Peel Public Health closes 2 Amazon fulfilment centres 

In addition to a new strategy focused on hot spots, Ontario's COVID-19 advisory table said Ontario needs to take more steps to protect workers in warehouses, factories and other facilities with large numbers of outbreaks.

Peel Public Health announced on Saturday that it has partially closed two Amazon fulfilment centres under Section 22 of Ontario's Health Protection and Promotion Act. Toronto Public Health said it is investigating workplaces in outbreak and may make an announcement on Monday.

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

WATCH | Peel Region moves to contain COVID-19 spread: 

How Peel Region is moving to contain the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces

1 year ago
Duration 9:03
Peel Region continues a 'priority review' of workplaces that may need to be temporarily closed by a public health order to contain COVID-19 outbreaks. The region's COVID-19 infection rate is among the highest in Canada.

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.

Long-term care ministry tries to free up hospital beds 

Meanwhile, Ontario's long-term care ministry announced measures on Saturday aimed at freeing up badly needed hospital beds and providing an "alternate level of care" for patients waiting for placement in a long-term care facility.

The ministry says the province will waive fees for patients who agree to take a spot in a home that may not be their first choice until they're placed in the facility they want.

It says accepting an alternate placement won't affect a patient's standing on the waiting list at the home they prefer. 

Patients are being moved from hospitals to long-term care facilities to free up badly needed hospital beds.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The ministry also announced it was relaxing staffing rules instituted earlier in the pandemic, saying long-term care staff who are fully vaccinated are no longer limited to working in just one facility.

It's an approach the Ontario Hospital Association has been promoting in recent weeks as ICU admissions soared to unprecedented highs.

"Obviously, this has to be done very closely and as collaboratively as possible with long-term care, but in doing so, we will ultimately help provide hospitals with additional staffing flexibility to address the other very significant patient care priorities in hospitals," association President Anthony Dale said in an interview.

Ornge, the organization in charge of patient transport, says patients are being moved in record numbers mostly by its critical-care land ambulances. 

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

With files from Julia Knope, Lucas Powers and The Canadian Press