Ontario reported another 1,076 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as the Ford government announced emergency stay-at-home orders will be lifting for most public health units as of next Tuesday.
Just Toronto, Peel and York regions, and the North Bay-Parry Sound district will remain in the current shutdown, ordered as cases surged following the holiday season.
Twenty-seven other public health regions will move back into Ontario’s colour-coded framework, the province confirmed in a news release Friday.
The Ministry of Health said the move is based on a “general improvement” in trends of key indicators, including lower transmission of COVID-19, improving hospital capacity and available public health capacity to conduct rapid case and contact management.
“The health and safety of Ontarians remains our number one priority. While we are cautiously and gradually transitioning some regions out of shutdown, with the risk of new variants this is not a reopening or a return to normal,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott.
On Thursday, health officials warned the province could be headed for a third wave of the pandemic if those coronavirus variants of concern aren’t kept in check.
WATCH | Dr. Zain Chagla on Ontario’s decision to begin easing COVID-19 restrictions:
Elliott said while some measures are easing, Ontarians must remain diligent.
“Until vaccines are widely available, It remains critical that all individuals and families continue to adhere to public health measures and stay home as much as possible to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities.,” Elliott said.
Here’s what public health regions are moving into what level of the framework:
- Niagara Region Public Health
- Chatham-Kent Public Health
- City of Hamilton Public Health Services
- Durham Region Health
- Halton Region Public Health
- Middlesex-London Health Unit
- Region of Waterloo Public Health
- Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit
- Southwestern Public Health
- Thunder Bay District Health Unit
- Wellington-Dufferin Guelph Public Health
- Windsor-Essex County Health Unit
- Brant County Health Unit
- Eastern Ontario Health Unit
- Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
- Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit
- Huron Perth Public Health
- Lambton Public Health
- Ottawa Public Health
- Porcupine Health Unit
- Public Health Sudbury and Districts
- Algoma Public Health
- Grey Bruce Health Unit
- Northwestern Health Unit
- Peterborough Public Health
- Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit
- Timiskaming Health Unit
Province to expand rapid testing program
Provincial health officials said Friday that Ontario intends to expand the use of rapid COVID-19 testing in schools, long-term care homes and essential workplaces in the coming weeks.
Once the program has ramped up, health officials said they expect to have one million rapid tests distributed every week.
They anticipate capacity for up to 50,000 tests per week in the public education system, and about 300,000 weekly for essential industries such as food processing, manufacturing, warehousing and construction.
Officials, however, could not provide a timeline on when capacity may reach those levels, noting it would depend on how many tests Ontario can secure through the federal government.
Ontario has received six million rapid antigen tests since November, but has distributed just about two million to date.
Officials expect to have rapid testing in place in Toronto, Peel and York Region schools when they reopen next week.
Today’s total case number likely an undercount
The Ministry of Health cautioned that the number of additional cases in today’s update is an undercount due to ongoing data-related issues at Toronto Public Health.
That said, the new cases include 361 in Toronto, 210 in Peel Region and 122 in York Region.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:
- Waterloo Region: 59
- Ottawa: 52
- Durham Region: 31
- Halton Region: 31
- Hamilton: 30
- Simcoe Muskoka: 24
- Thunder Bay: 22
- Windsor-Essex: 18
- Niagara Region: 17
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 17
- Brant County: 13
- Lambton: 11
- Southwestern: 11
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the 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.)
The new cases come as labs completed 62,012 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 2.2 per cent — the lowest since Oct. 16, 2020.
Another 18 deaths of people with the illness were recorded, pushing Ontario’s toll to 6,632.
The province began the process of moving regions back to its colour-coded restrictions framework on Wednesday, lifting stay-at-home regions for three public health units with few cases of COVID-19.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said at the time that up to 28 more public health units could see lockdown measures lifted next week. Which category of the colour-coded system they will be placed into — green, yellow, orange, red or grey-lockdown — will be announced today.
It’s unclear at this point how the government will communicate that news. Premier Doug Ford is set to make a photo op, but will not hold a news conference.
Toronto and Peel and York regions are set to stay in lockdown until at least Feb. 22.
The staggered reopenings come as revised models suggest that Ontario could face a third lockdown if the spread of variants of concern is not contained.
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