Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce sweeping new public health measures later today as the province tries to curb a climbing number of COVID-19 cases and increasing strain on hospitals.
Ford is scheduled to hold a news conference beginning at 1 p.m. ET at Queen’s Park. The premier’s office says he will be joined by the ministers of health and education, as well as the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams.
You’ll be able to watch the news conference live in this story.
Sources told CBC News on Sunday that new measures will include a 28-day lockdown for all parts of the province south of Sudbury.
The restrictions in these areas will look much as they did during Ontario’s initial shutdown in the spring, with only essential businesses remaining open. The specific list of closures and guidelines was still being fine-tuned over the weekend, the sources said.
Areas north of Sudbury, however, will move into a two-week lockdown, the sources said, and winter break for elementary students across Ontario could be extended by up to two weeks.
The measures come against a backdrop of modelling that forecasts, under any scenario, Ontario could see up to 300 patients with cases of COVID-19 in intensive care units by the end of December.
In a worst-case scenario, that number could balloon to more than 1,500 by mid-January, said public health officials at a morning briefing.
You can see the full government modelling at the bottom of this story
During the height of the first wave of the illness in Ontario, some 264 patients required intensive care. As of this morning, there were 265 people with COVID-19 in Ontario ICUs.
Over the past four weeks, officials said, there have been a 69.3 per cent increase in overall hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 and an 83.1 per cent jump in the number of patients requiring intensive care.
Experiences in other jurisdictions, such as in Victoria, Australia and France, four to six-week “hard lockdowns” have resulted in “dramatic reductions” in case numbers, officials said.
The forecasts come as hospitals in some of Ontario’s hardest-hit regions are warning of unsustainable pressures on front-line staff and rippling effects throughout the health-care system. Last week, CBC Toronto reported nearly half of all ICU beds at one Scarborough hospital were taken up by COVID-19 patients.
In a joint statement over the weekend, hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area, along with the Ontario Hospital Association, said that health-care workers are “stressed and overstretched.”
Rising admissions of patients with COVID-19 mean that some hospitals have already been forced to postpone or cancel unrelated procedures, many of which were already put off in the spring.
“This level of strain is simply not sustainable for much longer,” the statement said, adding that a potential surge following the holiday season will only make things worse.
2,123 more cases of COVID-19
Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 2,123 cases of COVID-19 this morning as admissions to intensive care topped those seen during the first wave of the pandemic.
It is the seventh straight day of more than 2,000 further cases in the province.
The new cases include 611 in Toronto, 480 in Peel Region, 192 in York Region and 138 Windsor-Essex. All four public health units, along with Hamilton, are currently in the grey lockdown tier of the province’s COVID-19 response framework.
In lockdown zones, restaurants can offer only takeout and delivery service, and only retailers that have been deemed essential can stay open.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in today’s report were:
Waterloo Region: 94 Halton Region: 92 Durham Region: 91 Niagara Region: 68 Middlesex-London: 64 Simcoe Muskoka: 61 Hamilton: 36 Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 33 Ottawa: 32 Southwestern: 21 Haldimand-Norfolk:19 Brant County: 16 Eastern Ontario: 11
(Note: All of the figures used for new cases in this story are found on the Ontario Health Ministry’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit because local units report figures at different times.)
Combined, the additional infections push the seven-day average to 2,276, the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic.
The Ministry of Education also reported 154 new cases that are school-related: 119 students and 35 staff members. Around 976 of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools, or about 20.2 per cent, have at least one case of COVID-19.
There are currently 19,019 confirmed, active cases of the illness in Ontario, also a new record high.
The province’s network of labs processed 54,505 test samples and reported a test positivity rate of 4.7 per cent.
Public health officials also reported 17 more deaths of people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 4,167.
Here’s the latest modelling on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario: