Ontario reported another 1,003 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, pushing the seven-day average to nearly 1,000 as the province prepares to roll back restrictions in a number of public health units on Saturday.
Premier Doug Ford announced this afternoon that as of 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, these public health unit regions will be moved to the following levels of the province's pandemic plan:
Peel Regional Health Unit.
Ottawa Public Health.
York Region Public Health.
Brant County Health Unit
City of Hamilton Public Health Services
Durham Region Health Department
Eastern Ontario Health Unit.
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.
Halton Region Public Health.
Niagara Region Public Health.
Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services.
Numbers 'are just going through the roof,' premier says
Ford said the decision to place Peel in the red zone was a difficult but necessary one.
"The numbers that we are seeing in Peel, specifically Brampton, they are just going through the roof. It's out of control right now and we have to react," he said at a news conference in Ottawa.
"These are the tough decisions I absolutely hate making. I hate making them … [but] at the end of the day I have to make the decisions with the consultation of our chief medical officer of health, the health table and the public health officer of Peel."
WATCH: Premier Ford announces Peel Region to move to Red–Control level of Ontario's pandemic plan:
Peel Region was previously forced into a modified version of Stage 2, which saw indoor dining prohibited and fitness centres closed, on Oct. 11. It was joined by Toronto and Ottawa the same day, and York Region one week later.
"We need to get this virus under control in Peel," Ford said.
"The region is averaging 103 cases per 100,000. The per cent positivity in daily cases is growing. Hospital capacity is under pressure.
"As we move many more regions across the province into this new framework on Saturday, I'm confident our government has a clear plan to support front-line health care going forward," Ford added.
What being in the red zone means for Peel Region
Under the red zone restrictions, restaurants and bars can serve indoors but only with a maximum 10 customers inside.
Also gyms can reopen, but with restrictions, and no dining is allowed in shopping mall food courts.
Red zone restrictions are less restrictive than what is currently in place in Peel — a modified Stage 2 — which bans indoor dining/drinking at restaurants/bars, and has gyms closed.
'Action needed to be taken,' health minister says
Health Minister Christine Elliott, who also spoke at the news conference, said based on specific data received on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the numbers in Peel Region are escalating "quite sharply so action needed to be taken."
"The per cent positivity rate is about 11 per cent right now. What we really want to get to is below two-point-five per cent, so there is a huge gap," Elliott said.
"We know that the numbers are out there. There is community spread and transmission and we also have to take a look at the ability of our health system to manage the increasing cases."
'Reckless' decision 'must be reversed,' OHA says
Meanwhile, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) says it's not in agreement with the government's decision.
"Given the powerful evidence of spread of the COVID-19 virus under the new framework, including 280 new cases today, the decision to proceed with reopening is reckless and must be reversed immediately given the risks it poses to area hospitals, particularly William Osler Health System," OHA president and CEO Anthony Dale wrote in a statement.
"As previously communicated, the OHA is consulting with members and other experts on the government's framework and will be providing our analysis and recommendation to the government early next week."
On Friday Toronto recorded 300 more cases, while Peel Region saw 280 and York Region 125.
Other areas that saw double-digit increases include:
Halton Region: 41
Waterloo Region: 34
Durham Region: 24
Middlesex London: 16
Simcoe Muskoka: 14
Brant County: 11
The seven-day average of new daily cases, a measure that limits noise in the data to provide a clearer picture of longer-term trends, climbed to a record-high 997.
Ontario's official death toll from the illness grew by 14, and is now 3,209. Roughly 64 per cent of all deaths were residents in long-term care.
The new cases and deaths come as the province's labs processed 41,268 tests. Another 47,000 are in the queue waiting to be completed.
There are currently 8,398 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 provincewide, the most at any point since the first case in Ontario was reported on January 25.
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found in the Ministry of Health's daily update, which includes data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often avoid lag times found in the provincial system.)
Earlier this week, the province rolled out its new tiered, colour-coded COVID-19 restriction framework and said that Peel, York and Ottawa would move into the orange "restrict" category, which does not include any closures of businesses, on Saturday. Toronto is scheduled to join the other regions next week.
Certain key criteria for loosening restrictions, however, are still above dangerous levels in Brampton. The rate of new COVID-19 cases daily is about 170 per 100,000 people, and the city-wide test positivity rate is around 11 per cent.
Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel's medical officer of health, wrote to the government this morning to ask that Brampton be held back from moving into the orange category.
Speaking to CBC News earlier this week, the medical director and division head of critical care for the William Osler Health System in Peel said the novel coronavirus is showing "explosive growth" in Brampton "in spite of the measures from four weeks ago.
"Relaxing the restrictions on gyms bars and restaurants is totally inappropriate and dangerous," said Dr. Brooks Fallis.