Ontario expected to detail holiday COVID-19 guidelines as 35 more deaths reported

Premier Doug Ford is holding a news conference beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET at Queen’s Park. Ford’s office says he will be joined by the minister of health and the chief medical officer of health.

You can watch it live in this story.


Ontario reported another 1,373 cases of COVID-19 and 35 more deaths linked to the illness on Wednesday, while the province prepares to roll out guidelines for the upcoming winter holidays.

The new cases include 445 in Toronto, 415 in Peel Region and 136 in York Region and drop the seven-day average to 1,389.

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in today’s report were:

  • Waterloo Region: 61
  • Hamilton: 49
  • Windsor-Essex: 48
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 30
  • Halton Region: 30
  • Durham Region: 26
  • Ottawa: 23
  • Niagara Region: 17
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 13
  • Thunder Bay: 13

[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 were also 162 school-related cases, including 138 students and 24 staff members. There are 688 publicly-funded schools in Ontario, or about 14.6 per cent, with at least one reported instance of COVID-19. Four schools are closed due to outbreaks.

The new cases come as Premier Doug Ford’s government is under fire for its pandemic response. A new report from the province’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk found that the response was hampered by “delays and confusion in decision-making.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s labs processed 36,076 test samples for the novel coronavirus and reported a provincewide test positivity rate of 4.7 per cent.

There are currently 12,779 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, 138 fewer than yesterday. 

The number of people with the illness in Ontario hospitals fell 11 to 523. Those being treated in intensive care stayed unchanged at 159, while 15 more patients were put on ventilators.

The 35 additional deaths reported today include 29 people aged 70 and over who contracted the virus in an outbreak, most likely long-term care settings. Ontario’s official death toll now sits at 3,554.

Scathing AG report on pandemic response

The province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was slower and more reactive than that of other provinces, Lysyk concluded in her report. 

She said outdated provincial emergency plans played a role in slowing down the provincial response in the winter and spring, as did systemic issues such as a lack of laboratory surge capacity and old IT systems.

Lysyk also pointed to an increasingly cumbersome command structure, and one that was not led by public health expertise despite the creation and expansion of a provincial health command table that she says now involves more than 500 people.

As well, she found the province’s chief medical officer of health did not fully exercise his powers in responding to the pandemic, or issue directives to local health officials to ensure a consistent approach across regions.

The auditor general also raised concerns that lab testing, case management and contact tracing were not being conducted in a timely enough manner to limit the spread of the virus, noting that between January and August, all but one public health unit failed to meet the target of reporting test results within a day 60 per cent of the time.

The findings are part of a special report released today that examines Ontario’s emergency management in the context of the pandemic, and its outbreak planning and decision-making, among other things.

In the report, Lysyk said many of the issues her office identified would have been avoidable if the province had acted on key lessons from the 2003 SARS outbreak before or during the health crisis.

COVID-19 and the holidays

Toronto and Peel Region are currently under the grey or lockdown level in the province’s tiered COVID-19 alert system, with those restrictions set to stay in place at least until the week of Christmas.

Public health measures under the lockdown level include a ban on indoor gatherings except with those in the same household, as well as closing down restaurants for all but takeout and delivery.

Shops in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood hang posters in their storefronts encouraging people to buy local as the holiday season approaches. (Evan Mitsui/CBC )

The province’s chief medical officer of health said earlier this week it seemed unlikely the situation would improve in those regions enough over 28 days to warrant moving them to the red alert level, which is one level lower. Previously, Dr. David Williams was derided for his suggestion that the entire province could be in the green zone by Christmas. 

Five other regions — Hamilton, Durham, Halton, York and Waterloo — are currently classified as red zones, which caps social gatherings at five people indoors and 25 outdoors.

Ontario’s most recent modelling showed the province is on track to see up to 6,500 new daily cases of COVID-19 by mid-December, though those projections are expected to be updated Thursday.

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