Ontario logged 2,938 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and 3,041 cases Sunday as two days’ worth of numbers rolled in after Easter weekend.
New cases on Monday include 906 in Toronto, 533 in Peel Region, 391 in York Region, 230 in Ottawa and 140 in Durham, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott.
The new numbers push the province’s seven-day rolling average, which helps break down trends in the data, to 2,758 — about twice what it was a month ago.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, called the latest numbers “horrific.”
“They’re not what we want to see. They’re going absolutely in the wrong direction,” she told reporters on Monday.
The province’s public health units recorded another 22 virus-related deaths, pushing the provincial cumulative death toll since the start of the pandemic to 7,450.
The number of people hospitalized with the virus stands at 942, but the Ministry of Health notes that 10 per cent of Ontario’s hospitals do not submit data on weekends.
Intensive care admissions continue to climb, reaching a new record high of 494 COVID-19 patients in ICU Monday, according to the health ministry. Of that number, 293 need ventilators to breathe.
Monday’s numbers come after only 36,600 tests were completed on Sunday, bringing the test positivity rate to 7.8 per cent. Sunday’s numbers are a result of nearly 46,400 tests completed on Saturday.
To date, 2,135 cases of the B117 variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom and is responsible for the majority of variant cases, have been confirmed in the province. But this is an undercount of the situation, as specific variants can only be confirmed once samples have undergone whole genome sequencing.
Over 26,000 cases in Ontario have tested positive for the tell-tale mutation that indicates the presence of a variant of concern, and these samples will undergo testing to pinpoint the exact variant.
The province says 121,577 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered since the last report on Saturday, bringing the total number of inoculations so far to 2,545,640.
As of Monday, 322,197 people have been fully vaccinated.
Toronto mayor calls for paid sick days for essential workers
Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory is calling on the federal and provincial governments to work together to improve the paid sick day program to help workers stay home and isolate.
“The time has certainly come now when we’re in the third wave,” he said on Monday.
“When people have paid sick days, 94 per cent comply with public health guidance”, he said. “When they don’t, just over half do… It’s not their fault.”
Tory said people shouldn’t be afraid to get tested, to get vaccinated, or to stay home when they’re sick for fear of missing a paycheque.
The mayor’s statement was echoed by de Villa, who said paid sick leave is an integral component of the pandemic response.
“We need both the protection for workers for paid sick leave…and of course, we need vaccine,” she said.
Tory also said the city is working on a plan to vaccinate high-risk people at their places of work.
He said the plan would involve mobile vaccination units that are already being used in some hard-hit neighbourhoods.
The Ontario government has said it will not duplicate the paid sick leave program run by the federal government.
Meanwhile, as of Friday, Toronto expanded its eligibility to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a city-operated clinic to include people aged 60 years and older.
Residents born in 1961 and earlier are encouraged to book an appointment to receive a vaccine, which as of Monday can now be administered at a sixth city mass vaccination site.
The Hangar in North York opened its doors Monday at full capacity and is able to vaccinate up to 1,800 people per day pending the availably of vaccine supply, the city said in a release.
The clinic will operate seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Residents aged 55 and older can access vaccines through the province’s pharmacy program.
Experts continue to call for more protection for essential workers
Tory’s comments come after a weekend in which health experts intensified calls for essential workers to be prioritized in the vaccination plan and to be better protected following the provincewide shutdown.
On Sunday, Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician with Trillium Health Partners, said the province is seeing the lion’s share of cases that are happening in the third wave in essential workers.
He said people that “keep the lights on” — such as farmers, factory workers and grocery store clerks — are not protected by the shutdown because by definition, they are essential and cannot close.
“So the lockdown is exactly missing the biggest source of cases,” Chakrabarti said. “This is one of my biggest concerns.”
Many say these at-risk workers have been overlooked throughout the pandemic, and a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table says essential workers now make up 50 per cent of new COVID-19 cases in the province.
Schools to remain open throughout provincewide shutdown
Meanwhile, students are back in their classrooms after the province put an end on Thursday to days of anxiety and speculation about a possible return to remote learning.
School boards had been urging students and teachers to take learning materials home before the Easter long weekend in case the government opted to shutter schools to control surging cases of COVID-19.
But Premier Doug Ford says schools will remain open, because closing them is disastrous for children’s mental health.
Instead, the province’s “shutdown,” which came into effect first thing Saturday morning, shuttered restaurant dining rooms and patios, and forced personal care services to close as well.
But retailers — both essential and non-essential — can remain open with capacity limits in place.