Ontario reported a record-high 10,436 new cases in the previous 24 hours on Wednesday, driving the seven-day average over 9,000.
The unprecedented total comes even as Public Health Ontario warns that case counts underestimate the true number of people with COVID-19 in Ontario, as the Omicron-fuelled increase in cases impacts testing availability in the province.
Of the nearly 60,000 COVID-19 tests processed in labs in the last 24 hours, more than one in four (26.9 per cent) came back positive.
New cases reported in Ottawa-area health units Wednesday included 132 in Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington, 109 in Hastings Prince Edward, 95 in Leeds, Grenville, & Lanark, 78 in Eastern Ontario Health Unit, and 44 in Renfrew County and District.
While COVID-related ICU occupancy increased just slightly in the last day, from 187 to 190, hospitalizations surged from by more than 230 cases, to 726 people hospitalized and testing positive. A ministry of health spokesperson said the fact that some hospitals don’t submit their data on weekends or holidays resulted in an increase in the number of hospitalizations reported Wednesday.
Three additional COVID-19 deaths were added to the total in Ontario, which sits at 10,171.
More than 176,000 vaccine doses were administered in the last day, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott.
Over 3 million Ontarians have received a booster dose of the #COVID19 vaccine!
Thank you, #TeamOntario, for getting shots into arms to keep us safe.
Book as soon as you can at https://t.co/pxlgLpkLxR, select pharmacies & primary care settings, or visit a pop-up clinic. pic.twitter.com/4WowMyGJa6— Christine Elliott (@celliottability) December 29, 2021
Ontario’s public health unit said in a Twitter post Wednesday evening that it has compared Omicron cases to “closely matched cases with Delta,” finding the risk of hospitalization or death was 54 per cent lower with Omicron.Though the new variant has been referred to by some as milder, public health said it expects an increase in overall hospitalizations due to Omicron anyway as it is more transmissible.Cases included in the study involved the onset of symptoms between Nov. 22 and Dec. 17, based on the date Omicron was first identified in Ontario.“Omicron appears to be the first dominant variant to demonstrate a decline in disease severity,” the study states. “While severity may be reduced, due to the transmissibility of Omicron, the absolute number of hospitalizations and impact on the healthcare system is likely to be significant.”
Meanwhile, some big provincial announcements are expected this week, on the return to in-person school (or not) and how people with COVID-19 or an exposure to it should act afterwards.
Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday an announcement would come “in the next couple days” about whether schools would reopen for in-person learning next week.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore had been slated to hold a press conference Tuesday about updated case and contact management as well as testing guidance for Ontario, but it was postponed earlier in the day.
The health minister’s spokesperson, Alexandra Hilkene, said Moore’s office as well as Public Health Ontario were comparing new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on isolation and quarantine periods with Ontario-specific evidence, and that Moore would provide an update later this week.
The CDC guidance shortens the recommended isolation time for Americans without symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to five, followed by another five days of mask-wearing around others.
Ontario announced new restrictions for long-term care homes Tuesday, designed to combat the threat of the Omicron variant.
Visits to LTC homes will be paused starting Thursday, except for palliative situations and access for essential caregivers.
In addition, residents will not be allowed to take day outings for social reasons.
Grace Welch, chair of the advocacy committee at the Champlain Region Family Council Network, said via email that while the network is pleased that essential caregiver access will continue, “we are very concerned about the impact of further isolation on the emotional and psychological health of residents as a result of visitor restrictions and cancellation of social outings.“
She also questioned whether mobile clinics were needed to simplify access to boosters, noting that 57 per cent of staff members and 16 per cent of residents still hadn’t received them, according to provincial numbers as of Dec. 22.
“We are also very worried about whether some homes will have sufficient staff to provide adequate care for residents. We know from wave one that some residents suffered serious dehydration and malnutrition because there weren’t enough staff to provide even basic levels of care,” said Welch, wondering whether there have been discussions between the province and federal government about military and Red Cross readiness to supplement LTC staffing, if hospitals are unable.
Latest COVID-19 news in Ottawa
Ottawa Public Health reported 653 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases of COVID-19 to 5,637.
The number of Ottawans in hospital with an active COVID-19 infection has dropped to eight, including one person in ICU.
According to OPH data, more than 22 per cent of tests processed between Dec. 22 and 28 (excluding LTC homes) came back positive for COVID-19.
Two new outbreaks were reported in local child-care centres, while three new outbreaks were reported in the congregate care sector. There are also five ongoing outbreaks linked to community settings.
The seven-day average for the estimated R(t) value is now 1.09. A value greater than one indicates that each case is infecting more than one contact, and the epidemic is accelerating..
Two more provincial pop-up sites to distribute free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests are scheduled in Ottawa this week.
They will be available at 8 a.m. on Thursday at St. Laurent shopping centre, 1200 St. Laurent Ave.; and on both Thursday and Friday starting at 7 a.m. at Walter Baker Recreation Centre, 100 Malvern Dr.
It’s first-come-first served, and the test kits have been snapped up quickly at previous pop-ups.
People with symptoms or exposure to someone with COVID-19 have been instructed not to attend the pop-ups.
An Ottawa community vaccine centre has cancelled its vaccine clinic until at least Jan. 7 due to staffing shortages.
The South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre announced the cancellations on social media.
The agency said it would be calling clients to reschedule.
Unfortunately we have to cancel our vaccine clinics until Jan 7th due to staffing shortages. If you have an appointment, we will be calling you to reschedule. pic.twitter.com/2jFeL5Bf3B— South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre (@SEOCHC) December 29, 2021
Meanwhile, Ottawa Fire Services reported Wednesday that a firefighter has tested positive for COVID-19.
Acting fire chief Paul Hutt wrote in a message to council that the firefighter is in isolation at home.
“Those who may have come in direct contact with this employee have been notified by Ottawa Public Health and are self-isolating,” Hutt werote.
Hutt said that “for confidentiality, no further information about this individual will be released.”
Latest COVID-19 news from Quebec
Quebec set another COVID-19 record Wednesday, with 13,149 new cases logged in the previous 24 hours.
That includes 1,317 cases in the Outaouais.
There were also 10 new deaths reported in the province.
Hospitalizations rose by 102 day-over-day to 804, while ICU occupancy by COVID-19 patients rose by seven to 122.
-With files from The Canadian Press