Ford says 'stay tuned' for announcement Thursday as Ontario's COVID-19 ICU admissions hit new high
Public health units reported another 2,333 cases of COVID-19 Wednesday
Admissions of COVID-19 patients to Ontario's intensive care units (ICUs) have surpassed the previous pandemic high, a government agency that tracks hospitalizations said Wednesday, as the province reported another 2,333 cases of the virus.
There are now 421 patients with the virus in ICUs across the province, according to Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO), which puts together daily internal reports for hospitals and health organizations. That number includes 32 people admitted Tuesday, CCSO said, after a single-day record of 46 Monday.
The previous peak of 420 came in mid-January, during the height of the second wave of the pandemic.
At a news conference Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he is "extremely concerned" about both rising ICU admissions and daily case counts.
Asked by a reporter about the possibility of any further restrictions coming into effect to help curb current trends, Ford said "stay tuned" and added that an announcement is coming Thursday.
WATCH | Ford promises an announcement Thursday on possible new restrictions
The premier was in North York with federal and Toronto municipal officials to announce joint funding to expand Canada's domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity at a Sanofi facility in North York.
Ford again urged Ontarians to forgo any plans to gather in large groups over the Easter weekend and to follow public health advice closely.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel here folks," he said, referring to the ongoing vaccination campaign. The Ministry of Health said 89,873 doses were administered provincewide Tuesday, a new record high.
"We only have a little ways to go. It's still going to be a tough haul but we're getting there," Ford continued.
Meanwhile, hospital officials are expecting that the number of COVID-19 patients in ICU will continue to surge past Wednesday's record, as the daily number of new cases has grown steeply in recent days.
Repeating a phrase used by Ford earlier this week, Health Minister Christine Elliott said "everything is on the table" as the government contemplates more public health restrictions.
Cabinet was set to meet late Wednesday to consult with the province's top doctor and look at new COVID-19 projections before making a decision, Elliott said.
She defended the government's decision not to release the plan until Thursday.
"I anticipate [that] is going to be a discussion that will take some time because we need to take the time to come to the right conclusions," she said.
Liberals, Greens, NDP call for more action
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the province hasn't done enough to prevent people from getting severely ill as the third wave has taken hold.
She said she expects the government to announce a new lockdown on Thursday, but said the province should be taking action immediately.
"I don't know why we're waiting for the cabinet to have a conversation about politics versus public health," she said.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner also urged the government to act.
"We need to ensure our hospitals and PHUs [public health units] have the resources they need," he said in a statement.
"We also need a comprehensive safe workplace strategy for essential workers, like those working in warehouses and grocery stores, that includes receiving vaccines sooner."
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the province needs to impose a "circuit-breaker" that halts spread of the virus as soon as possible.
"We've seen this really horrible movie before," he said. "We saw it before Christmas ... we've seen repeated dithering, we've seen repeated delays."
'Most serious than it's ever been'
"The situation is the most serious than it's ever been," said Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association. "Our critical care system in Ontario is not built for a mass-casualty event like this."
Dale likened the situation in the province's hospitals to an airplane about to crash land.
"Right now, the air crew is out instructing the passengers on the best way to protect themselves and prepare for impact," he said in an interview.
"That is what our health care system is trying to do right now: prepare for impact and make sure that there's the maximum probability that people who need access to life-saving care can get it."
(You may notice ICU figures reported by CCSO often differ from those the Ministry of Health posts on its public COVID-19 dashboard. That's because the ministry removes a patient from its count once they have stopped testing positive for the virus, even if that patient remains in critical care with complications. As such, CCSO's count is regarded as the more accurate accounting of the situation in hospitals.)
The rise in ICU admissions is being driven largely by the continued spread of variants of concern in the province. Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, a group of experts that advises the government on its pandemic response, projects that variants currently account for about 69 per cent of all new infections.
In a report published this week, the table said that variants of concern are associated with a 63 per cent increase in risk of hospitalization, a 103 per cent increase in the risk of needing intensive care and a 56 per cent rise in the risk of death from COVID-19.
WATCH | Medical professionals discuss Ontario's third wave of COVID-19
Emergency physicians and infectious disease experts have repeatedly said that the spread of variants, particularly the B117 variant first found in the United Kingdom, is dangerously outpacing the province's immunization campaign.
To date, Ontario has received 2,820,495 doses of vaccines from the federal government and administered 2,192,253, or about 77.8 per cent, of those.
In an email Tuesday, Ford's office outlined the current status of expected deliveries of vaccines until the end of April.
Ontario is awaiting the delivery of 396,630 Pfizer doses expected on April 5; 395,460 doses on April 12; 395,460 doses on April 19 and 396, 970 doses on April 26.
The province is still waiting for a second shipment of Moderna doses. The first 97,600 doses arrived the week of March 22, while the second shipment of 225,400 doses, which was expected the week of March 29, has been delayed and is now expected April 7.
7-day average of daily cases climbs to 2,316
The new cases reported Wednesday include 785 in Toronto, 433 in Peel Region, 222 in York Region, 153 in Hamilton, 124 in Ottawa and 120 in Durham Region.
They come as labs completed 52,532 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 4.8 per cent.
The seven-day average of new daily cases climbed to 2,316, its highest point since January 26.
Public health units recorded the deaths of 15 more people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 7,366.
The Ministry of Education also reported another 332 school-related cases, including 282 students and 50 staff members. As of Wednesday morning, 63, or about 1.3 per cent of Ontario's publicly-funded schools, were closed due to COVID-19.
Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has said this week that families will get further guidance about the week-long break currently scheduled to begin on April 12 by the end of the work week.
At a news conference on Wednesday Lecce said the province intends to keep the April break as is. When children return to school there will be "heightened vigilance" like new screening protocols and higher quality masks, he said. Also a deep clean of all schools is promised over the break.
Meanwhile, some school boards have instructed parents to ask their children to bring materials home ahead of this Easter weekend in case learning is shifted online
Both the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and the ThamesValley District School Board in London have sent notices to families in recent days, saying while nothing is planned, they want to ensure parents are prepared if the province indicates a shift is required.
Lecce was on hand to announce a boost to the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit payment. The money is set to double for each child — $400 per child and $500 for a child with special needs. The payments are part of the Support for Learners program, which aims to help parents who may need to hire childcare or stay home from work due to virtual schooling.
With files from Mike Crawley, Ieva Lucs, Shawn Jeffords and Holly McKenzie-Sutter