The Ontario government has no plans to reintroduce mandatory masking or pause its reopening plans, even as a sixth wave of COVID-19 is underway in the province, Minister of Health Christine Elliott says.
Elliott spoke to reporters at a news conference in Toronto Thursday where she and other provincial officials announced new funding for North York General Hospital.
The minister was asked if there is a threshold of hospitalizations or ICU admissions at which the government might reintroduce restrictions such as masking or hold off on the further reopening at the end of April.
“At this point it doesn’t appear necessary that we need to take any further precautions,” Elliott said. But she said the province is relying on the advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore.
“There’s really no surprise here,” she said, when asked about the increasing number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations, saying it was expected that key indicators would rise as restrictions were lifted.
‘We need to get on with our lives’
Elliott was also asked why Dr. Moore has ceased holding regular pandemic media briefings and has not been made available for interviews despite the rise in numbers.
To that, she said, Moore is “doing his job” assessing COVID-19 indicators and that “it’s good news” that he isn’t holding regular updates because “we’re now at a stage where the peak of the pandemic has passed us.”
“We need to get on with our lives and learn to live with COVID as it still exists with us,” she said.
Ontario reported another 3,139 COVID-19 cases through limited PCR testing Thursday, marking the first time cases have surpassed the 3,000-mark since Feb. 10. Modelling suggests the actual number of cases to be 10 times the reported number.
Dr. Peter Jüni, who heads the province’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said Wednesday he estimates the real number of cases provincewide to be roughly between 30,000 to 35,000 based on wastewater surveillance data.
On the question of possible fourth doses, Elliott said the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is expected to release its guidance in the coming days, after which Dr. Moore will review it before making recommendations for Ontario.
Hospitalizations on the rise, 6 new deaths
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 807 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday with 166 of those patients requiring intensive care.
The number of hospitalizations is up from 778 on Wednesday and 661 one week ago.
Of the hospitalizations reported, the number of patients in intensive care is up by one from 165 reported a day before and 165 reported at this time last week.
According to the Ministry of Health, 48 per cent of people hospitalized were admitted specifically for treatment of symptoms brought on by the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive. Meanwhile, 74 per cent of people in ICU were admitted because of COVID-19, while the rest were added for other reasons, then tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, the Ford government announced Wednesday it will continue to provide free rapid antigen tests until July 31 as health experts say a sixth COVID-19 wave is underway with hospitalizations and cases rising.
There were 18,318 tests completed Wednesday with 6,284 currently pending.
The six additional deaths reported bring the total death toll in the province to 12,433.
Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health’s daily provincial update:
Active cases: 20,748.
Provincewide test positivity rate: 16 per cent, up from Wednesday’s rate of 15.1 per cent.
Patients in ICU requiring a ventilator to breathe: 93.
Long-term care homes in outbreak: 59.
Vaccinations: 9,457 vaccine doses were administered on Wednesday in Ontario with a total of 32,064,229 given out to date. Ninety per cent of Ontarians aged five or older have received at least one dose, while just over 86.5 per cent have received two doses.