Ontario will begin offering COVID-19 vaccines to residents aged 50 and over in "hot spot" postal codes in the coming weeks, health officials said Tuesday, as the province reported another 3,065 cases of COVID-19.
The 90 or so neighbourhoods in 13 public health units were identified by Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, officials explained at a media-only briefing this morning.
Many of those who will be eligible under the initiative are essential workers, officials said, though they did not say exactly when it will begin.
The 13 public health units included in the plan are: Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Niagara, Ottawa, Peel, Simcoe-Muskoka, Southwestern, Toronto, Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Windsor-Essex, and York Region.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford promised "a brighter summer ahead for all of us" if people follow health protocols and get vaccinated when possible.
"If you have a loved one … please get them booked," Ford said.
The briefing was an update on Phase 2 of Ontario's vaccine rollout, which began this month and is expected to last through the end of June.
Younger essential workers likely won't have access to shots until, at the earliest, mid-May, according to the slide deck presented by officials. You can read the presentation for yourself at the bottom of this story.
Ontario's online booking portal will open to all residents aged 60 and above starting tomorrow. Some health units were already offering this age group appointments, but any that have not yet begun can start in the morning, officials said.
The province hopes to start vaccinating up to 100,000 people per day this month. The average for daily shots sits at 72,543, though there is capacity to be doing as many as 150,000, officials said.
Overall, they added, Ontario could administer four million doses through the end of April if supply allows.
To date, Ontario has received a total of 4,022,875 doses from the federal government, including about 1.3 million that arrived over last weekend. Health units have administered 2,621,839, or about 65 per cent, of all doses delivered to Ontario thus far.
Test positivity highest since early January
Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 3,065 cases of COVID-19 this morning.
The new cases today include 955 in Toronto, 561 in Peel Region, 320 in York Region, 165 in Ottawa, 132 in Niagara Region, 128 in Hamilton, 119 in Halton Region and 101 in Durham Region.
They come as labs completed 37,541 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a positivity rate of 8.9 per cent — the highest since January 5 and the fourth highest at any point in the pandemic.
The seven-day average of daily cases climbed to 2,862.
Public health units also recorded the deaths of eight more people with COVID-19, pushing Ontario's official toll to 7,458.
The Ministry of Health says 76,199 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered yesterday and 323,148 people have now gotten both doses.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education reported an additional 236-school related cases, including, 207 students and 29 staff members. About 22 per cent of schools currently have at least one reported case, while 83 schools, or 1.7 per cent of Ontario 4,828 publicly-funded schools, are closed due to COVID-19.
Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel's medical officer of health, announced yesterday that he would use his authority to close schools in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon for the next two weeks. The region's weekly case rate, as well as its seven-day average of test positivity, are both the highest in Ontario right now.
It was also revealed yesterday that Loh, along with his counterparts in Toronto and Ottawa, submitted a letter to Ontario's chief medical officer of health requesting that a provincial stay-at-home order be implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19.
A stay-at-home order was not among the measures introduced last week by Ford and his cabinet to combat the surging third wave of the pandemic, which is increasingly being fuelled by variants of concern.
When asked why the province isn't tightening restrictions, Ford said the situation is "moving day by day, hour by hour.
"I think we made a massive move last week by basically shutting down the entire province," Ford said.
Despite that claim, Ford also noted malls in hot spot regions were rammed over the weekend, specifically pointing to Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto.
Ford said provincial officials will be discussing "the options for how we can address the issues we're seeing in retail settings."
Premier promises new restrictions
As he has done repeatedly over the course of the pandemic, Ford also signalled that further restrictions are coming for the province, but he did not offer any specifics.
"We're going to have further restrictions moving forward, very very quickly," he said.
The province said today that a total of 27,193 samples that tested positive for COVID-19 have also screened positive for a particular genetic mutation that indicates the presence of a variant of concern, including 1,068 more reported today.
Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, which advises the government on its pandemic response, forecasts that variants currently account for about 67 per cent of all new cases in the province.
According to physicians and public health experts, variants are driving a surge in admissions to intensive care units, especially in the Greater Toronto Area.
The province says there are 510 people with COVID-19 being treated in ICUs, which is the highest at any point in the pandemic. During the second wave of the illness, ICU admissions peaked at 420.
"This is posing significant risk to our health-care system," Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said Tuesday.
"The trends we are seeing are troubling," Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams echoed.
The government's response to the second wave included a provincewide lockdown and stay-at-home order that went into effect on Dec. 26, 2020 and lasted for more than six weeks in Toronto and Peel.