COVID-19: Summer in Ontario could be more open, officials say; Ontario reports 1,138 new cases, 23 deaths

A roundup of coronavirus news in Ontario for February 25


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A more open summer in Ontario is possible: public health officials

4:30 pm Summer 2021 could better and be more open than summer 2020, but Ontario must first get through a “minefield” in the weeks ahead, public health officials said today.

During a data modelling presentation at Queen’s Park, the co-chair of Ontario’s science advisory table Dr. Adalsteinn Brown said the province is entering an uncertain and critical period, and future case growth will depend on how quickly officials can contain spread.

Likening the months ahead to a minefield, he said officials must watch the pandemic very closely, reopen jurisdictions carefully and act quickly to contain expected flare ups in places like congregate settings.

“Case numbers are down and the extended stay-at-home order in the GTA has been a powerful protection against more rapid growth, but the worst dangers are immediately in front of us,” he explained, adding cases are rising again in some places. “A big jump in mobility or a big increase in gatherings will create the same kind of dangers for us.

“If we are very careful we can imagine a much better summer,” he said. “If we let up we will, without a doubt, lose the gains that we’ve worked so hard for.”

Brown said fast-spreading COVID-19 variants are a big concern and now comprise 20 per cent of all confirmed cases, up from five per cent on January 25. He called that increase “a substantial rate of growth.”

Variants are projected to make up 40 per cent of all cases by the second week of March.

Another 54 cases of the B117 variant (or UK variant) have been confirmed since yesterday, bringing the total to 449. Additionally, there are now 11 cases of B1351 (South Africa variant) and two confirmed cases of P1 (Brazil variant).

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said variant cases are doubling once every two weeks, which is a better rate than anticipated but still concerning.

Though the lockdown has resulted in a levelling off of new cases, Toronto, Peel and York are “trending in the wrong direction,” Brown said, adding testing positivity rates are going up again.

“We’re likely to see increases in cases very shortly,” Brown said.

Hospitalizations also appear to be on the rise again after levelling off, but Brown expects to see that number drop as elderly Ontarians in the general population start receiving vaccines in mid-March.

In the worst case scenario, Ontario will experience a third-wave by the end of March – or 4,000 cases per day – or 2,5000 cases per day in a more likely scenario. In the best case scenario, daily cases would drop to 500 per day.

The worst case scenario would be due to rapid spread of variants, Brown said.

“A United Kingdom-type scenario where cases tripled in about a month is not necessarily off the table,” he said. “The next few months are really key to maintaining our gains and the key to achieving a declining pandemic in the summer.”

Ontario’s cases are currently hovering around the 1,000 mark, with the seven-day moving average up to 1,099 compared with 1,016 this time last week. Province-wide, the testing positivity rate has dropped to two per cent, the lowest level since mid-October.

The province reported 1,138 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. Toronto had 339 new cases, Peel had 204 and York Region had 106.

Ontario has seen a sharp drop in long-term care resident deaths and new cases thanks to the vaccine rollout. Twenty long-term care resident died in last seven days and there are “only 42 outbreaks” in care homes that involve residents, he added.

Brown said stay-at-home orders combined with vaccinations have saved an estimated 326 lives in long-term care homes. However, second wave mortality in care homes (1,894) has surpassed total in first wave (1,848) in first wave last spring.

Another element that could help reduce spread is the weather, Brown said. Warmer weather means more people will spend time outdoors and less in enclosed spaces where the virus spreads more easily, can also help to break transmission.

““A better summer is possible,” he said.


Ford to increase election campaign donation limit

1:36 pm The Ford government wants to increase campaign donation limits and extend the third-party advertising and advance voting periods for provincial elections.

On Thursday, the government said in a news release it is proposing the Protecting Ontario Elections Act in order to “guard against threats such as the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, under-regulated third-party advertising, irregular campaign spending and collusion.”

The bill would also regulate MPP behaviour on social media.

According to the government, the 19 proposed reforms would:

  • Increase advance polling days from five to 10, a change first proposed by Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer;
  • Double the amount individuals can donate to a candidate, constituency association, leadership contestant or party from $1,650 to $3,300 per year;
  • Extend third-party advertising spending limits from six to 12 months before an election period and introduce a definition of collusion to help protect Ontario’s elections from outside influence and interference; and
  • Clarify the rules that allow MPPs to maintain individual social media accounts before, during and after a writ period, as well as pave the way for the legislature to set other social media rules. 

The next provincial election is scheduled to take place in June 2022.


Ontario reports more than 1,100 new COVID-19 cases

11:25 am Ontario reported 1,138 new COVID-19 cases on February 25 and a seven-day rolling average of 1,099, marking the fifth consecutive increase in daily averages.

The province saw 1,054 new cases on Wednesday, 975 on Tuesday and 1,058 on Monday. A week ago, the seven-day average was at 1,016.

Yesterday, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa said the pandemic is worsening in Toronto, citing the city’s reproductive number rising above 1 to 1.1 – meaning the downward trend in transmission rates has reversed.

Provincial public health officials will provide updated modelling data this afternoon.

Ontario completed 66,351 tests in the past 24 hours, marking a 1.7 per cent positivity rate after four consecutive days of testing numbers below 60,000.

An additional 19,112 doses of the vaccines were administered in the past day, bringing the provincial total to 621,960 doses administered and 255,449 people fully vaccinated as of February 25.

Active cases in the province have increased for the first time since January 11, going up to 10,071 from 10,050 the day before.

Hospitalizations have also increased from 675 to 687. Patients in intensive care decreased slightly to 283, including 182 on ventilators.

Another 23 people have died, a jump from daily death tolls under 15 from the past four days.

Ontario has seen 297,311 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic and 6,916 deaths.

As transmission rates start to rise, the provincial government committed to providing free tuition for students who enrol in personal support worker (PSW) programs this spring.

The funding will also support an accelerated education path that will allow students to complete the program in six months instead of eight in the hopes of funnelling more PSWs into the workforce at a faster rate.


New COVID-19 cases in Ontario on February 25

The following regions reported five or more new COVID-19 cases:

Toronto = 339

Peel = 204

York Region = 106

Ottawa = 64

Region of Waterloo = 56

Thunder Bay District = 44

Simcoe Muskoka District = 44

Halton Region = 40

City of Hamilton = 37

Windsor-Essex County = 33

Durham Region = 28

Eastern Ontario = 20

Brant County = 19

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph = 18

Niagara Region = 12

Southwestern = 11

Northwestern = 9

Lambton = 8

Sudbury & Districts = 7

Huron Perth = 6

Middlesex-London = 6

Hastings Prince Edward = 5

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