The Algoma District public health unit, which has consistently reported only a handful of new cases each day over the past several months, confirmed 27 new infections today.
Five more virus-related deaths were confirmed today, bringing Ontario’s COVID-19 death toll to 9,921.
Despite an uptick in cases over the past couple of weeks, the number of COVID-19 patients receiving treatment in intensive care appears to be flat. There are now 130 COVID-19 patients in Ontario ICUs, up slightly from 129 last Friday.
However, the science table said the immediate future of case counts is unclear due to the recent surge of infections.
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“I think it’s really important to acknowledge the uncertainty right now. We’re at a critical juncture. And if you want a proof of concept of that, just go to Western Europe and see what’s happening there,” scientific director Dr. Peter Jüni told CP24 on Friday.
The increase of virus spread across the province is attributed to colder weather and people spending more time indoors, the lifting of some capacity limits last month, and more indoor gatherings.
As a result, the science table recommends a “deliberate pause on reopening” for the time being, wearing masks properly indoors and getting fully vaccinated.
Jüni said right now the province needs to adhere to current public health restrictions to ensure infections don’t skyrocket.
“It’s about fine tuning capacity limits, etc. Making sure that vaccine certificates are carefully implemented, that people are wearing their masks. We’re at that level, which is good news,” he said.
“Toronto right now has still relatively stable case counts. We’re holding the line here, and I would like to see it this way also in the future,” he added.
Testing rates have remained relatively flat throughout the past couple of weeks but the positivity rate has steadily increased across the province.
“Testing is flat, but positivity is rising in several Public Health Units. This indicates a real rise in cases,” the science table wrote in a presentation released on Friday.
The province’s current positivity rate stands at 2.5 per cent, up from 1.8 per cent a week ago.
As of Nov. 8, the effective reproduction number, which corresponds to the average number of additional infections caused by one infection, was at 1.25, well up from a month ago when it was one.
Although cases are rising across most regions in the province, hospital and intensive care occupancy remain stable for now. However ICU rates are likely to increase in the coming months.
In a “more likely” scenario, the science table predicts that ICU occupancy will hit 200 beds in January, and in a “possible” scenario it could hit 250.
The science table notes that all scenarios assume that all health restrictions remain in place.
As of Friday, 207 people with the virus were in Ontario hospitals and 130 were in ICUs.
Jüni said if ICU occupancy increases a bit the health-care system shouldn’t be overwhelmed like it was in the past two waves of the pandemic.
“So even if we see case numbers increase a bit, we will not see the same increase as before in ICU beds occupied. So 200 to 250 is still okay. We just need to make sure that our case numbers don’t explode as it was the case in Europe,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the province will continue to monitor trends to determine the best steps forward.
“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. 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,” Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.
In last month’s modelling, the science table projected that lifting more measures prematurely could drive a new wave despite strong vaccine coverage.
The table predicted that case counts would hover around 500 per day through November as contact between individuals increased.
Today the province reported 598 new COVID-19 cases, down from 642 cases on Thursday but up from 563 a week ago.
The recent rise in case counts has caused the seven-day rolling average to hit 537 today, a notable increase from 404 a week ago.
To date, 88 per cent of eligible Ontarians have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 85 per cent have received two doses and are considered fully vaccinated.
Children under 12 years old are not yet eligible for a vaccine.
The science table noted that unvaccinated individuals have a six-fold higher risk of symptomatic COVID-19 disease, eleven-fold higher risk of being in the hospital and 26-fold higher risk of being in the ICU compared to fully vaccinated individuals.
“Vaccination remains the most effective protection against COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and long COVID-19, but there are critical gaps in coverage across communities,” the science table wrote.
The latest modelling comes after the Doug Ford government announced earlier this week that it would pause the lifting of more public health restrictions in some high-risk settings.
The government was supposed to lift capacity limits on Monday at food and drink establishments with dance facilities, such as wedding venues, strip clubs and bathhouses, provided that the venues require proof of vaccination.
However, the government said the restrictions would remain in place for the time being “out of an abundance of caution.”
Last month, the government unveiled its plan to lift all remaining public health restrictions by March, including mandatory masks and the vaccine certificate system. The government said the removal of restrictions would only occur pending positive health indicators around the spread of the virus.
The public health units with the highest number of cases today include Toronto (63), Simcoe-Muskoka (55), Peel Region (43), Windsor (43), Ottawa (37), Durham Region (37), and York Region (32).
The province’s Science Advisory Table is set to release new COVID-19 modelling data today.
It says unvaccinated people accounted for nearly 62 per cent of 383 hospitalizations between Oct. 28 and Nov. 10, while partially vaccinated people accounted for seven per cent, and people with two doses made up 31.1 per cent.
8:15 p.m. The Yukon government says another person has died after contracting COVID-19, and this brings the territory’s pandemic death toll to 11, reports The Canadian Press.
Yukon reported 41 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed between Wednesday and Friday for a total of 156 active infections, according to CP.
Most of the new infections are in people who live in Whitehorse, where the acting public health officer has said cases were widespread and untraceable.
The latest case numbers come as a proof-of-vaccination requirement, for a range of businesses, events and services, is set to take effect in Yukon starting Saturday.
The territory declared a state of emergency earlier this week in response to rising COVID-19 case numbers.
The new public health measures coming into effect also include mandatory masks in all indoor public settings and capacity limits on various gatherings.
A total of 1,176 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Yukon since the pandemic began.
6:54 p.m. Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta can now offer a limited supply of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, reports The Canadian Press.
Kenney says 5,000 doses have been received from the federal government and the province is seeking more, according to CP.
Albertans, 18 years and older, can book appointments to receive the J&J vaccine, but it will only be administered at select Alberta Health Services clinics.
Kenney says he has heard some vaccine-hesitant Albertans could be more willing to consider the one-dose vaccine.
There has been a steep drop in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Alberta has just over 5,700 active cases, and there are 554 people in hospital with the virus.
“If people for their own reasons, based on their own research or priorities, have chosen this as the best vaccine for them, we respect that choice, and we want to be there to support them in that choice,” Kenney said Friday.
“The supply, at this point, is still pretty scarce … (but) we’ll continue to push for more. I’ll be speaking to the prime minister next week and we’ll emphasize the importance of this.”
The province is using a number of measures to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including a vaccine passport at participating non-essential businesses, such as restaurants, bars, casinos and movie theatres.
Starting Monday, Albertans will need to show a QR code downloaded from the provincial health website as proof of vaccination.