504 new daily COVID-19 cases 'most concerning I've seen,' Toronto medical officer of health warns

·4 min read

Toronto reported a record-breaking 504 new COVID-19 cases Monday — the most the city has seen in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

That figure was reported by Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa during a COVID-19 news briefing with Mayor John Tory, and is more up to date than the provincial figure of 483.

Ontario also reported another 1,242 cases across the province, the second-most on a single day after a new record-high number Sunday.

During the briefing, de Villa said Monday's reported daily case count is one that cannot be "ignored" or "rationalized."

She noted that case counts in Toronto "do not point us toward fewer restrictions."

Toronto has seen 1,350 new COVID-19 cases in the last three days, de Villa said, calling the numbers "the most concerning" since the onset of the pandemic.

"We're in a high-risk situation. It is not time to panic, it is time to act," she said.

Tory agreed, emphasizing that "we cannot accept these numbers."

'Numbers are going in the wrong direction': Tory

Tory said the city must "hunker down" for the next few weeks and push these numbers back down to where they need to be.

"The numbers are going in the wrong direction as we speak," Tory said. "We have to fight them."

Several hotspots around the province moved into a new tiered, colour-coded system last week. The system classifies each public health unit as a red, orange, yellow or green zone based on caseload and transmission levels.

Toronto is under the restrictions of modified Stage 2 until at least Nov. 14. The province delayed its transition into the new system at the request of local officials. Toronto is currently clocking about 90.6 weekly new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, approaching the threshold for the red tier.

Asked if indoor dining and gyms will reopen this weekend, both De Villa and Tory say they are continuing to discuss with the province and will have more answers on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, de Villa said she's optimistic about news of progress on the vaccine front.

"I'm as happy as anyone to read about the early findings on vaccine," she said.

Pfizer announced on Monday that an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19. This vaccine is one of seven that the country has pre-ordered.

"We know that most vaccines suffered more setbacks and successes during their development and testing phases, so today cannot be seen as anything but good news at this stage," de Villa said.

"But I must caution you: we have a very long way to go before we can rely on any vaccine to protect us from COVID-19."

COVID-19 Immunization Task Force planned

A new board of health report was also released Monday detailing plans for a COVID-19 immunization task force that the city says would deliver the "largest mass immunization campaign ever undertaken at one time."

"We know we will still be waiting for a vaccine for a number of months," Tory said. "We are doing this work now so that we will be ready for what we know will be a massive effort that's required to vaccinate people against COVID-19 when the vaccine becomes available."

The task force will be co-led by Toronto Public Health, along with the city's fire services, paramedic services and the Emergency Operations Centre.

"While it is not yet clear when a vaccine will be available, this task force will ensure that the city is ready to play its role in helping Torontonians get vaccinated, guided by the overall immunization strategy provided by the province," the report notes.

Once guidance from the province is revealed, the city will be prepared to lead local implementation, the report says. This may include allocating and distributing allotted vaccine doses, working with medical practitioners and administering vaccines through clinics.

"The city will be working with the province as they develop their plan to ensure that we are able to execute what is needed for Torontonians within the context of Ontario — in a safe and timely manner," Tory said.

The report includes recommendations from the medical officer of health for vaccine planning that include urging the province to ensure flu vaccine promotion and distribution to be targeted across Toronto "with a particular focus on those at higher risk such as racialized and low-income populations."

It also notes that the city has started looking into the mental health impacts of the pandemic by identifying a set of local indicators, including those related to use of emergency department services, mental health referral agencies, and local mental health-care providers.