Ford says 'tough' new measures coming to COVID-19 hot spots as Ontario reports 1,210 new cases

Ontario reported another 1,210 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and 28 more deaths linked to the illness. 

The new cases include 361 in Peel Region, 346 in Toronto and 143 in York Region. Premier Doug Ford says information more stringent restrictions will be introduced for the three areas tomorrow.

Dr. Lawrence Loh, medical officer of health in Peel, said this morning that he supports short-term measures to “reduce the number of contacts and interactions” happening daily in the region.

“I do think further closures and restrictions are warranted at this time,” he told CBC News Network. 

Earlier this week, ICES, a non-profit health-related research institute, published data analysis showing that five neighbourhoods in Peel had test positivity rates north of 15 per cent, considerably beyond the threshold for serious concern about community transmission. While testing levels in Peel have remained relatively stable in recent weeks, ICES said, the region-wide per cent positivity of tests continued to steadily rise.

WATCH | Dr. Lawrence Loh says he supports further restrictions in Peel Region:

Dr. Lawrence Loh says “some sort of pause” is necessary for Peel Region to curb its daily growth in COVID-19 cases. 2:08

During a Thursday afternoon press conference, Ford promised to release new public health restrictions tomorrow.

“These measures will have to be tough in the hardest hit areas,” Ford said.

“We have some difficult but necessary decisions to make.”

Neither Ford nor Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams would specify exactly what those measures would be, saying they still need to go before cabinet.

“Overall, we’re heading in the wrong direction,” Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said later Thursday. 

“This challenge is not insurmountable, but it’s going to be tough.”

Overall, the number of new cases provincewide today is down from 1,575 last Thursday, dropping the seven-day average to 1,369 — the lowest it has been since Nov. 13 and a third straight day of decreases. It is notable that brief drops also happened in October, before cases once again began surging upward.

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

  • Durham Region: 57
  • Ottawa: 37
  • Hamilton: 37
  • Halton Region: 35
  • Waterloo Region: 28
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 27
  • Windsor: 24
  • Niagara: 21
  • Middlesex London: 19
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 11
  • Grey Bruce: 10

There are currently 12,628 confirmed, active infections of the novel coronavirus provincewide, 194 fewer than yesterday. It’s the second straight day the number of active cases has declined after about a month of climbing upward.

The newly confirmed infections in today’s come as Ontario’s labs processed 41,838 tests. The province reported a test positivity rate of 4.1 per cent.

It is unclear what effect the temporary closure of a major testing centre in Brampton on Monday and Tuesday may have had on the number of newly confirmed cases today. Damage from a wind storm forced William Osler Health System to briefly shut down the assessment site South Fletcher’s Sportsplex, though it reopened yesterday.

The number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 fell nine down to 526. Admissions to intensive care, however, jumped considerably up to 146, an increase of 19. Of those, 88 people — 10 more than yesterday — are on ventilators.

Further to the province’s official number, an internal report from Critical Care Services Ontario, shared by sources with CBC Toronto this morning, puts the number of patients in ICUs at 150. Last week, public health officials said that is the threshold before other surgeries and procedures will likely need to be cancelled to accommodate COVID-19 patients.

Ford said Thursday that the province has increased capacity for ICU and acute care beds.

“We’re going to add surge capacity within the hospitals,” he said.

Yaffe also noted Thursday that the issue doesn’t hinge simply on the number of ICU beds, but on the highly-specialized staff needed in these units.

Ontario’s official toll of deaths linked to the illness is now 3,443. So far this month, 307 people with COVID-19 have died.

[Note: All of the figures used in this story are found in the Ministry of Health’s daily update, which includes data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often avoid lag times in the provincial system.]  

Confusion over rollout of vaccines

Meanwhile, there already appears to be confusion about how many doses of COVID-19 vaccine Ontario could get early next year.

Speaking at the provincial legislature yesterday, Health Minister Christine Elliott suggested that Ontario could receive up to 2.4 million doses for distribution between January and March. About 1.6 million of those would come from four million doses slated for Canada from Pfizer in that time, according to Elliott, while 800,000 would come from two million doses anticipated to come from Moderna.

Elliott stressed that Pfizer’s vaccine, which the company said today has shown up to 95 per cent efficacy, must be stored at nearly –80 C, creating a huge logistical challenge. Moderna’s vaccine, reported to be about 94.5 per cent effective based on preliminary data, must be kept at –20 C.

WATCH | Ontario Health Minister says COVID-19 vaccines coming in early 2021:

Christine Elliott says the province will receive vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna between January and March. 0:50

While the vaccines have shown promise in clinical trials, the companies are still awaiting regulatory approval in the United States. Health Canada will also need to approve the vaccines before they are sent out across the country. 

Elliott’s comments made headlines, but it seems the federal government is unwilling to say whether her figures were correct. Asked for specifics during question period in Ottawa yesterday, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu was unable to provide any.

In a later interview with CTV’s Power Play, Hajdu’s parliamentary secretary, Liberal MP Darren Fisher, said the federal government would work closely with provinces on rolling out successful vaccines, but that he was “not aware” of where Elliott “got her numbers.

“I am not sure what provinces have for possible numbers that might come forward depending on which contract yields a successful and approved by Health Canada, that is safe for Canadians, vaccine,” Fisher said. 

Asked about the apparent confusion, Elliott’s office said her figures were based partly on discussions with her federal counterparts.

“Based on early conversations with the federal government, and using a per capita model, Ontario is expecting to receive 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and 800,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine between January and March,” a spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

“While a vaccine is still months away, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ford said Thursday that the province got its numbers from “senior officials” within the federal government.

CBC | Toronto News

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