COVID-19 cases are rising across most regions in Ontario as testing numbers remain flat but positivity rates increase, the province’s science table says in its latest modelling projections released on Friday.
Twenty-six of Ontario’s 34 public health units have seen a rise in cases over the previous two weeks, which health officials attributed to colder weather, and more people gathering indoors.
The province reported just under 600 new cases on Friday, with the seven-day average hitting 537, up from 404 a week ago.
However, health officials said future case predictions are uncertain because the surge in daily reported infections is very recent. Though the table did write, “Testing is flat, but positivity is rising in several public health units. This indicates a real rise in cases.”
While the past three Friday’s have seen similar testing levels in the 30,000 range, this Friday saw a 2.5 per cent positivity rate, up from 1.8 per cent just last week.
Hospitalizations remain stable for the moment but health officials said ICU occupancy is likely to increase to coincide with the surge in cases, as seen in parts of Europe and across Canada.
In a “more likely scenario,” the science table said ICU occupancy could see 200 patients by January while a “possible” scenario projected up to 250 beds.
As of Friday, the province reported 130 patients are currently in ICUs. There were 12 patients from ICU in Ontario from Saskatchewan, as of Thursday.
Earlier in the week, the province put a hold on further reopening plans, which were set to come into effect on Monday, a decision supported by the science table.
Settings where proof of vaccination is still required for entry — including nightclubs, strip clubs and bathhouses — will not see their capacity limits lifted on Monday as expected, and will instead have to wait until mid-December.
Along with the updated projections, health officials continued to urge Ontarians to get vaccinated, saying it continues the be the most effective protection against COVID-19.
However, officials did note that COVID-19 remains a higher risk for lower-income people, minority groups and essential workers.
As of 8 p.m. Thursday, just over 85 per cent of eligible residents were fully immunized with two doses while first dose coverage stands at almost 89 per cent.
In modelling projections released in October, the science table warned lifting public health measures “prematurely” could result in a new wave of cases. Health officials projected case counts close to 500 by the end of November due to the loosening of restrictions, increased contact between people and colder weather pushing people indoors.
A statement by Minister of Health Christine Elliott’s spokesperson on Friday said the modelling projections support Ontario’s choice for a cautious reopening approach.
“There’s no question that the months ahead will require continued vigilance, and the modelling rightly points out that some jurisdictions are struggling as they continue to face the fourth wave of COVID-19,” the statement continued.
“That’s why Ontario continues to take a different approach by maintaining strong public health measures such as indoor masking and proof of vaccination requirements to access higher-risk settings.”
—With files from Gabby Rodrigues and The Canadian Press
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