Ontario reports more than 2300 new COVID-19 cases as ICU numbers reach record high

Ontario health officials reported more than 2,300 new cases of COVID-19 as the province reached a record high number of people battling the disease in its intensive care units.

The province confirmed 2,333 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday. Daily case numbers have remained above the 2,000 mark for seven straight days.

The province’s seven-day average for number of cases recorded is now 2,316, up from 1,676 one week ago.

With 52,532 tests processed in the last 24 hours, the province says its COVID-19 positivity rate dropped to 4.8 per cent after two days above the six per cent mark.

The latest Critical Care Services Ontario report, obtained by CTV News Toronto on Wednesday morning, shows there are currently 421 patients in intensive care units (ICUs) across the province with COVID-19.

The total marks the highest number of COVID-19 patients in critical care at one time since the pandemic began. The last time the ICU admission total surpassed 400 was in January during the height of the pandemic’s second wave.

Thirty-two people were admitted to ICUs in the last 24 hours, the government agency report stated on Wednesday, after a single-day record of 46 yesterday.

Health-care workers and experts have been warning the province that hospitals will become overwhelmed by the rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

"We're in a critical spot today," Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, said on Wednesday.

"This is a train heading down the tracks and it's going to take a while to slow it down. So even if we implement significant public health measures today, we could see ICU numbers hit 500, but if we don't, that's when things could really get bad."

Meanwhile, CTV News Toronto has learned the Ontario government will announce Thursday that it will force the province into a month-long shutdown.

According to the government’s guidelines, a shutdown—indicated as a sixth tier in the government’s framework—is similar to the old grey zone rules in which retail is allowed to open with strict capacity limits, indoor dining remains closed and gyms are shuttered.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday that he was prepared to act swiftly.

“I'm very, very concerned to see the cases go up. I'm very concerned to see the ICU capacity and we all have to be vigilant,” he said. “I'm just asking people don't gather in large groups, don't have big, big gatherings and follow the protocols.”

Warner said the province must focus on implementing public health restrictions as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues.

"We need to protect the health and safety of people, set economic interests aside for now, and get some control over what's happening to all of us right now," he said.

"We need to press the pause button … the pandemic is out of control, unless we regain control, so many more people will die.”

Health officials on Wednesday reported that 15 more people have died in Ontario due to COVID-19. In total, the province has seen 7,337 deaths related to the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

The province also deemed 1,973 more cases of the disease to be resolved as of Wednesday, bringing Ontario’s number of recovered patients up to 322,382.

Wednesday’s report brings the total number of lab-confirmed cases in Ontario to 349,903, including deaths and recoveries.

Where are the COVID-19 cases in Ontario?

Most of the new cases reported on Wednesday are concentrated in hot spot regions in the Greater Toronto Area. Officials reported 785 new cases in Toronto, 433 in Peel Region and 222 in York Region.

Several other regions reported infection totals in the triple digits, including Ottawa, which reported 124 new cases, Durham Region, which reported 120 new cases, and Hamilton, which reported 153 new cases.

Variants in Ontario

Since the province began actively searching for COVID-19 variants of concern in Ontario, there have been 21,346 mutations discovered in lab-positive tests.

Of those mutations, officials found 1,229 in the last 24-hour period.

While the province has discovered thousands of variant mutations, only 2,060 have undergone genome testing in order to be officially categorized.

There are at least 1,229 cases of the B.1.1.7. variant in Ontario, as well as 70 B.1.351 variant and 92 P.1. variant.

More than 315K people fully vaccinated in Ontario

The province reports that 315,820 people in Ontario have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and are now considered immunized against the disease.

In the last 24-hour period, officials said that 89,873 doses of the vaccine were administered to residents in the province.

The province lowered the minimum age for COVID-19 vaccines to 70 years old and over in 10 more public health units on Monday.

People born in 1951 and earlier can now use the provincial system to book their shots in the regions, which include Hamilton, Grey Bruce, Peel and Ottawa.