Ontario sees 417 new COVID-19 cases as ICU burden ticks upward

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, is scheduled to hold a briefing on COVID-19 in the province at 3 p.m. ET. You can watch it live in this story.

Ontario reported 417 new cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of three more people with the illness on Thursday.

The number of people being treated for COVID-related sickness in the province’s intensive care units ticked upward to 158 from 153, a second day of increases. About 64 per cent of those patients needed ventilators. 

Critical Care Services Ontario says 13 adults with COVID-related symptoms were admitted to ICUs on Wednesday, and the seven-day average of COVID-19 patients in ICUs stands at 153.

Meanwhile, the consistent decline in new cases that began around Sept. 5 continued with today’s figures. The seven-day average of daily cases fell to 476, its lowest point since mid-August.

The developments come after CBC News first reported that the Ontario government will announce plans next week to exit the ‘Roadmap to Reopen.’ The further easing of pandemic measures will include ending capacity limits in all locations where proof-of-vaccination requirements are in place, such as restaurants, bars and gyms, a senior official in the government said Wednesday.

The official declined to say when the relaxed measures will take effect. Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said that will be a key element of the plan. 

In an interview with CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Thursday, Jüni said the province should wait at least three weeks before making further changes. That’s because the government announced last Friday that it was lifting capacity limits on some major venues while continuing to impose restrictions on smaller businesses, a move that Jüni called “an experiment.

“The point is, now, that nobody knows how that will impact the pandemic. We should wait three weeks to figure out what’s happening, and then do the next step. But I know the pressure is very high,” he said.

The policy change was immediately questioned by small business groups, like the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Critics called on the province to explain its reasoning, saying businesses like restaurants, gyms, yoga and dance studios, swimming and martial arts venues, and bowling alleys continue to see their customer capacity restricted to 50 per cent. Similarly, restaurants need to maintain two metres of physical distance between tables.

Jüni said he’d like to see the government wait until any potential impacts of the capacity changes for major venues to show up in pandemic data. He added that he has particular concerns about lifting distancing measures in restaurants.

Ontario is not currently experiencing exponential growth in new cases. 

“We are in a place right now where, if we don’t get ahead ourselves and just continue to do what we’ve been doing — keep masking and have the vaccine certificates in place — all of this could work out really well. But we need to be ready that things could change very swiftly.”

If new cases were to start doubling every eight or nine days, that would be an indication that capacity limits may need to be reimposed in some settings, Jüni said.

Forecasting is complicated by the impending arrival of winter, he added. It is difficult to project how the current level of vaccination coverage in Ontario, nearly 83 per cent of all those 12 and older, could work to counteract people spending more time indoors, he said.

126 new school-related cases reported

Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health’s daily provincial update:

New school-related cases: 126. About 93 per cent were students. Four of the 4,844 publicly-funded schools in Ontario are closed due to COVID-19.

Tests completed in the last 24 hours: 35,421, with a positivity rate of 1.5 per cent.

Active cases: 4,022, with roughly one-third associated with the public school system.

Vaccinations: 28,756 doses were administered by public health units on Wednesday. For a second day, more than 10,000 of those were first shots.