Some hospitals in Ontario can resume non-emergency surgeries as the province saw more positive signs Wednesday that the third wave of the pandemic continues to slowly wane.
In a memo to hospitals, Ontario's chief medical officer of health cautioned that whether non-emergency procedures restart will depend on the capacity of individual facilities and it will not be uniform across the province.
"At this point in time, new cases, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions appear to be trending downward," Dr. David Williams wrote in the memo.
"While these numbers remain high and we continue to see demand for health services related to COVID-19, we are beginning to see available capacity among community and hospital partners in some areas of the province."
Williams ordered non-emergency procedures to be halted provincewide on April 20, as hospitalizations and admissions to ICU were rapidly climbing.
At the same time, the backlog of procedures continued to balloon, and stood at nearly 250,000 when the initial order was made.
Williams said the province will closely monitor the situation in hospitals as more procedures restart.
The directive comes as Ontario reported another 1,588 cases of COVID-19 this morning, the fewest in eight weeks, as well as 19 more deaths linked to the illness.
For comparison, there were 2,320 additional cases confirmed last Wednesday. It's best to compare week over week changes on any given day due to the cyclical nature of testing in Ontario.
The infections in today's report came as labs completed 38,422 tests and Public Health Ontario logged a provincewide positivity rate of 5.2 per cent. The seven-day average of positivity rates has been declining for several weeks now.
So too has the seven-day average of daily cases, which fell to 2,182, its lowest point since March 29.
Another 3,119 infections were marked resolved in today's provincial update. There are about 23,416 active cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, below the peak caseload seen during the second wave.
As of yesterday, there were 1,401 people with COVID-related illnesses in hospitals, while 735 were being treated in intensive care units. Of those, 539, or a little more than 73.3 per cent, required a ventilator.
Overall and daily admissions to ICUs continued a downward trend that began, roughly, at the beginning of May. But many hospitals are still under extreme pressure. For reference, there were 420 or so COVID patients in ICUs during the peak of the second wave in January.
The additional deaths push the official toll to 8,525, while the seven-day average of deaths dropped to 21.6.
Public health units collectively administered 145,461 more doses of COVID vaccines yesterday. Just under 57 per cent of all Ontarians aged 16 and older have now had at least one shot.
Open some outdoor spaces, expert says
One member of the province's science advisory table says schools could safely reopen by the end of the month.
"The logical next step is indeed to address pandemic fatigue, people struggling mentally and motivationally, by just opening what is actually safe to open, and that's outdoor spaces," Dr. Peter Juni said.
That doesn't mean opening patios or outdoor dining just yet, he said.
But, Juni says, the province could open tennis courts, soccer fields, playgrounds and other such venues for people to get outdoors, keeping a two-metre distance from those outside their household or wearing masks if it's not possible to do so. That could include outdoor basketball, so long as masks are worn.
After that, the province could look at opening schools around the end of May or the beginning of June.
Juni cautions classes should remain cohorted, with students only interacting with their own classmates. Masking should also remain in place and classrooms should stay ventilated.
"And then we need to wait," said Juni. "The point is not to fall into the trap of starting to open any indoor spaces more. That needs to wait."
That wait should be approximately three weeks, he says, after which the province could consider opening outdoor dining restricted to households.
"The secret here is to go step-wise and [to allow] outdoors very far before indoor spaces."
'We are so close'
The province isn't officially putting out any plan just yet. But the solicitor general sounded cautious on Wednesday.
"When there is a holiday or a long weekend, two weeks later unfortunately, we do see a mini-spike in the number of cases," Sylvia Jones said.
"I guess I'm asking, respectfully, for people to be patient. We are so close."
She also suggested lifting restrictions will happen based on the type of business, not based on where they are in the province.
The science table is expected to give its latest projections on where it appears things are headed on Thursday.
NDP calls for judicial inquiry into COVID response
The Ontario NDP renewed its call this morning for a full judicial inquiry into the province's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The pandemic may have been more brutal and deadly in Ontario than it needed to be," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a news release.
The NDP proposal would have the inquiry begin in September and would allow for a broad investigation of at least nine key issues, including the speed of the response; protection of residents in long-term care; supports for workers and businesses; and the province's vaccine rollout.
In February, Horwath tabled a private members bill that laid out the timelines and parameters of an inquiry. A private members bill rarely receives a third reading in the legislature.