Toronto’s medical officer of health says that there was a “concerning” increase in people with COVID-19 who reported attending gatherings with individuals outside of their households over the holidays despite pleas from public health officials urging people to stay apart.

Dr. Eileen de Villa made the comment during a briefing at city hall on Wednesday afternoon as she reported another 837 new cases of COVID-19 in the city.

She said that nearly 32 per cent of respondents to Toronto Public Health’s online source of infection survey admitted to gathering with people outside of their households between Dec. 22 and Jan. 4 compared to about 21 per cent of respondents in “the weeks prior.” She said that the portion of positive COVID-19 cases who reported close contact with a non-household member also increased from 30 per cent to 44 per cent over the holiday period.

“The outcome of these decisions will emerge over the next days and weeks. If they manifest as COVID-19 cases the implications are plain to see,” she warned.

Public health officials, including de Villa, spent weeks urging people to avoid attending holiday gatherings and to instead get together virtually amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the early data appears to suggest that many Torontonians didn’t heed those warnings.

Speaking with reporters, De Villa said that the hospital system locally is already under “enormous” pressure with 87 per cent of ICU beds now occupied and that there is “little reason to expect that the case counts will decline anytime soon.”

At the same time, she said that she is becoming increasingly concerned about a rise in infections among younger Torontonians. On Wednesday those between the ages of 20 and 29 accounted for 181 of the 837 new cases reported, the highest number among any age group.

“Today the youngest person amongst those newly hospitalized is 23. I understand from discussions with my hospital colleagues that admissions of younger people are reaching noticeable levels,” de Villa said.

Tory won't rule out curfew

The number of COVID-19 infections in Ontario has risen rapidly in recent weeks and on Wednesday the total number of lab-confirmed cases surpassed 200,000 for the first time.

De Villa was asked about whether she thinks elementary school students returning to the classroom on Monday is a good idea given the high level of community infection and conceded that she does “have some concerns.”

She said that she has “registered those concerns with our provincial counterparts” and that there continues to be active discussions on that front.

Meanwhile, Mayor John Tory said Wednesday that he would be open to enhanced measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 if deemed necessary by public health experts, including a potential curfew.

His comment came after Premier Doug Ford told reporters that he would have a conversation with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams about whether there is now a need for additional restrictions.

“If somebody said that some kind of a restriction on when people could come and go would significantly increase our effectiveness in wrestling this virus to the ground then I wouldn’t rule it out. But as of this moment there has been more mention of it in media questions than there has been in official circles,” Tory said.