Personal care services across Ontario will be permitted to reopen next month in regions in the province’s grey-level lockdown zones, but two regions will see tighter restrictions starting next Monday.
Hamilton will be moving into the grey-level lockdown zone, while Eastern Ontario Health Unit will move into the red “control” zone.
“Over the last week, we have continued to see some concerning trends in key health indicators in regions across the province,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott in a statement.
On Friday, the province also announced changes for personal care services in grey-lockdown zones. As of April 12, services including, but not limited to: hair and nail salons, barber shops and body art establishments will be allowed to open at limited capacity by appointment only.
The changes come one day after 10,000 personal care service workers called on the provincial government to reopen the “decimated” industry.
The government also announced that outdoor fitness classes and outdoor training for team and individual sports will be permitted in the grey-level lockdown zones as of Monday.
A maximum of 10 people will be allowed to participate in these activities and must also follow public health recommendations.
The province is also modifying outdoor capacity limits for weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites or ceremonies held in regions in all levels of the framework.
Effective Monday, capacity limits for these services will be adjusted so more people can gather so long as they can maintain two metres of physical distance.
This change does not apply to social gatherings associated with these services such as receptions.
ICU admissions soar
Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 2,169 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as a government agency that tracks hospitalizations said admissions to intensive care have climbed to 401 after weeks of an uneven but steady rise.
Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO) puts together a daily internal report on various aspects of care for hospitals and health organizations. According to the agency, admissions of COVID-19 patients to ICUs peaked at 420 in mid-January, during the second wave of the illness.
“Every day the situation grows more serious,” said Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, in a tweet highlighting the latest data.
You may notice that CCSO’s figure for ICU admissions differs considerably from the number reported by the Ministry of Health, currently 332. That is due to differences in how each body does its count.
In the case of the ministry, patients are removed from the count after two weeks of care in hospital, regardless of whether or not they continue to occupy a bed. That is why CCSO’s data is considered more accurate and is therefore used for planning by hospital officials.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said yesterday that virus variants of concern are driving up case counts and admissions to hospitals and critical care.
“Daily cases are increasing, hospitalizations are increasing and ICU admissions are increasing,” Yaffe told media. “As [variants] take over to be the predominant strains, the concern is that the infection rate will increase.”
The Ministry of Health said in today’s report that another 1,023 test samples that tested positive for COVID-19 also screened positive for a particular mutation that suggests the presence of a variant of concern.
A total of 16,680 samples have now screened positive for the mutation in the province. Some of those samples will then go for whole genomic sequencing, an intensive laboratory process that can pinpoint which variant of concern caused the case.
According to Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, variants currently account for about 55 per cent of all new infections in the province.
CBC News reported this morning that the table plans to release a new analysis that found that variants double the risk of someone being admitted to intensive care, relative to the dominant strains that were circulating earlier in the pandemic.
The variants also increase the risk of dying from the illness, the science table says. The group of infectious disease experts advises the Ontario government on its pandemic response.
Physicians, especially those working in the Greater Toronto Area and surrounding regions, report that the age distribution of patients admitted to hospitals is continuing to skew younger. Those younger patients also seem to have more severe forms of COVID-19 than compared with similarly aged people earlier in the pandemic, doctors say.
The trend is also partly being driven by ongoing vaccinations for the province’s most elderly residents. The Ministry of Health said that health units administered 82,996 doses of vaccines yesterday, a third consecutive record high for a single day. A total of 306,373 people have received both shots of a vaccine.
7-day average of daily cases rises sharply
Meanwhile, the new cases reported today include 682 in Toronto, 397 in Peel Region, 254 in York Region, 129 in Ottawa, 123 in Durham and 122 in Hamilton.
There were also two new cases confirmed in the Timiskaming Health Unit. That may not seem particularly notable relative to other areas, but provincial officials announced late Thursday that Timiskaming would move into the red “control” level of Ontario’s restrictions system today.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said the decision was made at the request of the health unit and that immediate action was necessary to minimize any further transmission of the virus.
In a release, the province said that the region’s case rate has increased from 3.1 to 24.5 cases per 100,000 people, an increase of 700 per cent, with more cases expected in the coming days.
The total new cases in today’s update come as labs completed 53,436 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity of 3.8 per cent.
The seven-day average of daily cases provincewide rose to 1,855, marking 11 straight days of increases.