Another 120 people have died as a result of COVID-19 in Ontario over the past week, while the province's reported hospitalizations linked to the virus dipped slightly but remain higher than they've been in eight months.
The newly reported numbers from the Ministry of Health show the number of people in hospital with the virus dropped from 1,921 last week to 1,842 this week. Not since February has the province seen numbers of hospitalizations this high.
Of those in hospital, 140 are in intensive care, a slight drop from the 148 reported last Thursday.
Ontario's official COVID-19 death toll is now 14,844, inching closer to the 15,000-mark. Earlier this year, the province changed its reporting to exclude deaths not directly attributed to the virus.
The new numbers come as Ontario faces with its top doctor has called a "triple threat" of a bad flu season, COVID-19 and the resurgence of a viral illness in children known as RSV.
COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals and ICUs
That, says Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, could lead to a decision on masking recommendations within a few weeks. Moore has said mask mandates are not out of the question as he monitors the impact the three illnesses are having on a health-care system that was already under strain.
Moore said he is monitoring COVID-19 indicators, ICU occupancy, and even flu activity in weighing his decision on masks.
Some public health experts, such as Dr. Fahad Razak, the former head of the COVID-19 science advisory table, have said Ontario is already at the point of needing mask mandates again.
Moore has said Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are "becoming a dominant strain" in Ontario.
Public Health Ontario has previously reported that the BQ subvariants are growing twice as quickly as the BA.5 strain and have a high-risk potential for transmissibility, reinfection and lowered vaccine effectiveness.
Test positivity on Thursday was 14.6 per cent, which is down slightly from 16.1 per cent last Thursday, but climbed over 18 per cent last Friday.
Positivity rates can vary depending on the number of people who test for the virus. This past January, the province moved to limit PCR testing to high-risk populations and settings only.
Experts have said reported case counts are a severe underestimate of the actual extent of COVID-19 infections in Ontario.