Ontario reports 1,631 new COVID-19 cases, but official says data issues put count likely closer to 1,300
More retailers to open, with restrictions, for first time in months in Toronto, Peel
Ontario is reporting 1,631 new COVID-19 cases on the same day stay-at-home orders lift in three regions, including Toronto and Peel — which have consistently seen the province's highest number of infections throughout the pandemic.
Monday's cases mark the highest number of new infections in over a month, though Ontario's Ministry of Health says today's case count is higher than expected due to a "data catch-up process."
Asked how much Monday's figure was inflated by the data delay, Public Health Ontario said it couldn't provide a specific number "due to the way the data are pulled for the reports."
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province's associate chief medical officer of health, said Monday's case count is probably closer to 1,300.
Of the new cases, 568 were reported in Toronto, 322 were reported in Peel Region and 119 were reported in York Region.
Provincewide, the Ontario government is reporting that some 626 people are in hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 282 are in intensive care, and 184 require a ventilator to breathe.
But according to a report by Critical Care Services Ontario — which provides a more up-to-date look at critical care data — the actual number of patients with COVID-19 in intensive care now sits at 337.
Ontario is also reporting an additional 10 deaths, bringing the death toll to 7,077. None of the deaths reported on Monday were of long-term care home residents.
Toronto, Peel and North Bay were the last regions still under a stay-at-home order, and are transitioning back to the government's colour-coded pandemic response framework.
North Bay is now in the "red" category, while Toronto and Peel are entering the "grey-lockdown," something local public health officials asked for in both regions.
Despite the "lockdown" title, moving to the grey category will allow more retailers to open with restrictions. Gyms, personal care services and indoor restaurant dining, however, will stay closed.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says the government is taking a "safe and cautious approach" to ending the provincewide shutdown, which started in January.
This comes as Ontario's lab network processed 38,063 test samples for the virus — the lowest number completed in a week. The test positivity rate was 3.4 per cent.
According to the ministry, health units across Ontario administered 21,882 doses of vaccines yesterday. A total of 273,676 people in Ontario have now been given both shots of a vaccine.
Ontario's website for booking COVID-19 vaccination appointments began a "soft launch" in six public health units last week.
Ahead of the province's centralized website for all public health units, Toronto hospitals have launched their own site where you can pre-register to get a vaccine if you're 80-plus or a high-priority health-care worker. To learn more about how to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the Greater Toronto Area — and whether or not you qualify — click here.
The Ministry of Education also reported another 95 school-related cases: 84 students and 11 staff members. Thirty schools are currently closed due to the respiratory illness.
The seven-day average of daily cases now stands at 1,155 — the highest it's been in three weeks.
The new daily case count brings the total number of cases since the pandemic began in Ontario to 309,927.
Labs also confirmed 51 more cases of a coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, B117, bringing the cumulative total of that variant to 879 (though the actual number is likely higher).
Yaffe, for her part, reported at a news conference later on Monday that the province now has 935 cases involving variants of concern.
In addition to the 879 cases of the B117 variant, there are 39 cases of the B135 variant, first identified in South Africa, and 17 of P1, first identified in Brazil.
Yaffe said the province is also now reporting the number of COVID-19 samples that have screened positive for the N501Y mutation, a mutation all shared by the variants of concern.
As of Friday, more than 26,000 samples have been screened for the N501Y mutation, with a test positivity rate of 16.8 per cent.
"We're seeing quite a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases that are screening positive for a variant of concern," she said.
Asked about new guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., which suggests that fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors, Yaffe said it is too early to say whether that advice could apply to Ontario. She said the U.S. has a higher rate of vaccinations.
Provincial officials, however, will look at the guidance, she said.
"Certainly, we're always interested in looking at the data that they've used and seeing how we can apply it here, once we get more vaccine into people," she said.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in cases were:
- Thunder Bay: 91
- Durham Region: 68
- Ottawa: 57
- Halton Region: 51
- Waterloo Region: 51
- Simcoe Muskoka: 48
- Windsor-Essex: 46
- Niagara: 31
- Sudbury: 27
- Hamilton: 22
- Brant County: 20
- Lambton: 19
- Middlesex London: 18
- Eastern Ontario: 15
- Northwestern: 11
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 10
What you need to know about retail reopening in 'grey lockdown'
Under the grey lockdown tier of the framework, non-essential stores can open at 25 per cent capacity while indoor dining, gyms and hair salons remain closed.
Grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies can operate at 50 per cent capacity.
Outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people and must comply with physical distancing rules.
Though non-essential stores in Toronto and Peel Region are allowed to open for the first time in more than 100 days, it won't be business as usual.
To prepare for visitors, major malls in these two hot spots have implemented new safety protocols, including:
- 25 per cent capacity limit.
- Live online meters to check mall capacity in real time.
- Mandatory screening (in-person or online) for all retailers, employees, and shoppers entering the malls.
WATCH | What you need to know about restrictions easing in Toronto and Peel
Masks remain mandatory in the shopping centres and must be properly worn at all times. Shoppers are also strongly encouraged to shop individually or with members of the same household.
At this time, food and beverage consumption is not allowed in malls. In-dining areas are not open to the public but all food court retails are open for takeout.
With files from The Canadian Press