Ontario reported another 574 cases of COVID-19 and a new single-day high for vaccinations on Friday, as some restrictions on outdoor activities, patio dining and retail were loosened in much of the province.
Public health units collectively administered 199,951 more doses of vaccines yesterday, the Ministry of Health said, topping the previous record of just over 190,000.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and member of the province's vaccine distribution task force, called the final tally an "impressive" feat that required a "major Ontario team effort.
"Thank you to the thousands and thousands of people involved in this and helping out at every level," he said in a series of tweets.
Nearly 72 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and older have now had at least one shot, while 11.9 per cent of Ontarians 18 and above have received both doses.
The province announced Thursday it is accelerating second doses of COVID-19 vaccines for people in delta variant hot spots, with bookings set to open up next week.
Residents in seven designated areas who had their first dose on or before May 9 will be able to book an appointment for an earlier second shot starting Monday.
The province is also encouraging unvaccinated residents in those areas — Toronto, Peel, Halton, Porcupine, Waterloo, York and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph — to get immunized.
However, the government said it won't shorten the dose interval for those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine as a first dose. Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario will stick to the 12-week interval based on the available scientific and medical evidence.
Third time's a charm?
Meanwhile, most regions of Ontario moved in to the first phase of the province's latest reopening plan as of 12:01 a.m. ET.
Fewer new cases and hospitalizations, as well as the ongoing progress of the vaccination rollout, have helped to bring the third wave of the pandemic under control.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people and patio dining of up to four people per table are among the activities now permitted.
Non-essential stores can also reopen, with a 15 per cent capacity limit, and outdoor fitness classes are allowed.
WATCH | Restaurant and bar patios are back after long shutdown in Ontario:
After an outdoor class at Power Yoga Canada's location in Mississauga, Vicki Guido said it was "absolutely amazing" to be there in person with other practitioners.
"It's been over a year that we've been closed. And what we're all about here... is community and connection," she told CBC reporter Linda Ward.
"Yeah, we had an online platform but there is nothing like surrounding yourself with human beings — moving with them and breathing with them — so I am just so very grateful."
Guido, a mother of four and a small business owner, said the pandemic has been a difficult period for her and many others.
"It's been a tough year for all of us — our children, us as moms — everyone has been impacted and challenged in some sort of way. And this is such an opportunity to heal and move and just sort of share and commiserate with each other."
More restrictions will loosen after 21 days if pandemic indicators continue to improve and more people get vaccinated.
One region in northern Ontario, the Porcupine health unit, will hold off on easing restrictions for now as infections soar in some areas.
Ontario extends wage increase for PSWs
The province also announced today that it has extended the temporary wage increase for around 158,000 personal and direct support workers in long-term care homes and health-care facilities.
The wage increase is an additional $2 per hour for eligible workers in public hospitals, and an additional $3 per hour for workers in long-term care, home and community care as well as child and social services.
The government said it will spend $141 million to extend the increase, which has been in place since October 2020 and will now be in place until August. 23, 2021. It had been set to expire at the end of June.
"These wage enhancements recognize personal support workers and direct support workers for their dedication to their patients, and help ensure they have the resources they need to continue delivering quality care in our communities," said Minister of Health Christine Elliott in a statement.
Average cases fall to 8-month low
Today's case count is down from the 914 reported last Friday.
Labs completed nearly 29,000 tests and Public Health Ontario logged a provincewide positivity rate of two per cent for a third straight day.
The seven-day average of daily cases fell to 568, its lowest point in more than eight months.
The number of total active infections stands at about 6,184. During the peak of the third wave of the pandemic, there were nearly 43,000 active cases in the province.
That said, Ontario stops counting an infection as "active" after two weeks. That means the figure does not necessarily reflect the real number of people who are experiencing COVID-related symptoms.
As of yesterday, there were 489 people with COVID-19 related illnesses in hospitals. A total of 440 were being treated in intensive care. Of those, 292, or roughly 66 per cent, needed a ventilator to breathe.
According to Critical Care Services Ontario, a government agency that compiles a daily report on hospitalizations, the median stay of COVID-19 patients in ICUs has grown to almost four weeks, the longest at any point this year.
The Ministry of Health also recorded the deaths of four more people with the illness, pushing the official toll to 8,935.