COVID-19 cases down in Ontario but variant ‘a significant threat’ to curbing spread, new modelling shows

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chairman of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, is detailing revised COVID-19 projections beginning at 3 p.m. ET.

CBC News is carrying the news conference live.


A COVID-19 variant spreading in Ontario is a “significant threat” to controlling the pandemic, but maintaining existing public health interventions will likely help encourage a downward trend in cases, even with a return to school factored in.

That’s the takeaway of updated modelling data by the province’s COVID-19 advisory table, released Thursday. 

The modelling indicates that cases and positivity are down in much of the province, that testing volumes are slightly down too. 

“Sustained high testing volumes will be important to control of the pandemic,” the report says.

A more grim finding: While cases are declining across long-term care homes, deaths continue to rise, with just 215 in the last seven days.

ICU capacity also continues to be strained and essential work is still “strongly associated” with the risk of infection. Communities with the highest proportion of essential workers continue to have the highest case numbers.

“We are still likely to surpass total deaths from the first wave,” the report says.

Ontario has been over reporting completed vaccinations

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health said Thursday that Ontario has been over reporting the number of people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the province.

The error means that the number of people who have received both doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines is only half of what the province has been logging.

“Rather than provide data on the number of people who have been fully vaccinated … officials inadvertently provided data on the number of doses administered to achieve full vaccination,” a spokesperson for the ministry said in a statement sent to media.

Data on the total number of doses administered was not affected, the spokesperson said.

The province reported yesterday that 96,549 people had received both doses of either vaccine so far. In reality, only 48,239 had. That is up to 55,286 this morning. 

The vaccine data page has since been updated to accurately reflect the current figures, the spokesperson said.

The news comes as Ontario reported another 2,093 cases of COVID-19 and 56 more deaths of people with the illness.

It’s the first time since Sunday that the province recorded more than 2,000 additional infections. The seven-day average of daily cases, however, continued to steadily decline down to 2,128.

The new cases in today’s update include 700 in Toronto, 311 in Peel, 228 in York Region and 123 in Niagara Region. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Hamilton: 94.
  • Durham: 85.
  • Windsor-Essex: 67.
  • Halton Region: 64.
  • Waterloo Region: 56.
  • Simcoe-Muskoka: 53.
  • Ottawa: 45.
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 43.
  • Middlesex-London: 37.
  • Eastern Ontario: 30.
  • Chatham-Kent: 25.
  • Huron-Perth: 18.
  • Southwestern: 16.
  • Lambton: 15.
  • Thunder Bay: 14.

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’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.)

There are currently 21,478 confirmed, active infections provincewide, down from a peak of 30,632 on Jan. 11. That figure has been trending downward as resolved cases consistently outpace new ones. 

Ontario’s labs processed 64,664 test samples for the virus and reported a test positivity rate of 3.3 per cent — the lowest in five days.

According to the Ministry of Health, there were 1,338 people with COVID-19 in hospitals, down 44 from the day before. The number of people that were being treated in intensive care fell by 19 to 358, while the number that required ventilator decreased by 15, down to 276.

The 56 additional deaths push Ontario’s total COVID-19-linked death toll to 6,014. 

It has been two weeks since the provincial government implemented a stay-at-home order in a bid to halt surging transmission of the virus. 

The province’s chief medical officer of health said earlier this week that it looks as though a provincewide “lockdown,” which began on Dec. 26, 2020, has contributed to a recent reduction in daily cases.

The last modelling update, outlined earlier this month, suggested that patients with COVID-19 in need of critical care could overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system if community transmission of the virus continued on pace.

Students in 4 more health units return to school next week

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said today that students in four more public health units have a green light to return to schools for in-person classes next week.

That’s about 280,000 students in the following health units:

  • Middlesex-London.
  • Ottawa.
  • Southwestern.
  • Eastern Ontario.

Read the full list of school boards affected by the announcement.

In a release, Education Minister Stephen Lecce wrote that the government agrees with the “growing consensus in the medical community” that returning to school is “essential to the wellbeing, development and mental health of children.”

The government has introduced some new safety measures in schools this winter — including masking for grades 1 to 3 — though debate continues about whether the measures are adequate. 

The next wave of students, from Toronto, Peel, York Region, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton, are currently scheduled to return on Feb. 10. 

Students in eleven other health units, including Halton and Durham regions and Simcoe-Muskoka, have not yet been told to expect when they’ll be able to return to schools.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches a health-care worker prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a University Health Network vaccine clinic in Toronto earlier this month. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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