550 new COVID-19 cases in Ontario as provincial total tops 5,000

Ontario confirmed 550 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, an 11.6 per cent increase that brings the provincial total to 5,276.

It is the largest single-day increase in cases since the outbreak began.

The official tally includes 174 deaths, though CBC News has compiled data from regional public health units across the province and counted at least 193 COVID-19-linked deaths.

Some 1,102 people are awaiting test results. The province completed 3,237 tests since the last update, below the 5,000 tests per day expected by late March and far from the 19,000 tests per day public health officials hoped to do by the third week of April.

Minister of Health Christine Elliott said Tuesday Ontario currently has the capacity to run as many as 13,000 tests daily, but the province’s 100 dedicated testing centres have not been submitting that many swabs each day. 

Public health officials acknowledged Tuesday that lab capacity has grown significantly and that the push is now to get community assessment centres to permit more people to take the test.

“The capacity issue isn’t what it was — they should be testing,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said of guidelines that restrict tests, even for some who display COVID-19 symptoms.

“We’re also looking at more testing in facilities where there’s an outbreak, more testing with health-care workers as appropriate, in Indigenous communities and so on, and there’s an expert group that’s going to be reporting very shortly (on) testing strategy … We don’t want to go overboard and end up with another backlog.”

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said the fewer tests seems to coincide with fewer people using the province’s telehealth service and its online assessment tool, which tells people whether they meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing.

“It may be evidence of some flattening,” he suggested, admitting he preferred to “be optimistic” in believing it could be due to fewer travellers and fewer people with symptoms.

“We’re not trying to limit (testing),” he insisted.

Williams cautioned that testing too widely would produce “biased” data that skew too heavily toward negative results when the goal is to reflect the population-at-large.

He also said global demand for testing and laboratory supplies is still high, requiring continued rationing, even as criteria is expanded.

“Sometimes these things ebb flow and we could get into another surge again. And if you compromise yourself — so you used up your reagent and your swabs and your supply — someone would ask at that time of the crucial need again: Why are you not more vigilant and cautious in your use of those supplies?” said Williams.

Increase in COVID-19 cases on ventilators

Health authorities are currently tracking 58 COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities in Ontario, including one in Bobcaygeon that has been connected to 26 deaths at Pinecrest Nursing Home.

Of the 605 cases that have been hospitalized:

  • 246 are in intensive care units.
  • 195 are on ventilators.

The data published this morning is a snapshot of the COVID-19 situation in Ontario as of 4 p.m. ET Tuesday. 

The Ministry of Health also offered the following breakdown of total cases since Jan. 15:

  • 46.1 per cent of cases are male, while 53.3 per cent are female.
  • 36.4 per cent of cases are people 60 years of age and older.
  • Greater Toronto Area public health units account for nearly 52 per cent of cases.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to hold a news conference at 1 p.m. ET at Queen’s Park. He will be joined by Health Minister Christine Elliott and Monte McNaughton, minister of labour, training and skills development.

Ford is expected to announce the implementation of enhanced workplace safety measures and workplace inspections for essential businesses during the outbreak, according to a labour ministry spokesperson. 

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