Ontario reported another 1,487 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, pushing the seven-day average to a new high as more regions move into the red "control" level of restrictions.
And, with news of a promising new COVID-19 vaccine candidate from Moderna, the provincial government offered its assurances that's it's preparing for a fair distribution of vaccines when they finally become available.
"We do have an entire team at the Ministry of Health that is working on the plan for distribution," said Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.
"We also have ethicists in this group to make sure its distributed fairly and equitably."
Moderna says its vaccine, which is still being tested, appears to be 94.5 per cent effective against the virus. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own COVID-19 vaccine appeared similarly effective.
Experts have pointed out that Canada still has major hurdles to overcome before it rolls out vaccines, including logistical challenges and a lack of data from the federal government to the provinces about what resources to expect.
Guidelines for holidays coming soon
Elliott also promised that she'd have more to say soon on the government's recommendations for the holiday season when it comes to socializing with family and friends.
She said she knows people want to gather with their loved ones, but said that "we may need to look at it a little bit differently this year."
Premier Doug Ford also said at the same news conference that the minister of education is preparing a plan for this year's holiday break from schools, which will be revealed soon as well.
There have been calls to lengthen the winter break or switch temporarily to online learning in the aftermath of it to prevent the virus from spreading in schools after holiday gatherings.
In a separate news conference, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams painted a somewhat rosier picture than Elliott's prediction of a different kind of holiday season.
"If we all do what we're supposed to do... we can get these numbers down," he said. "So you move from the red, to the orange, to the yellow and, I would like to think everybody would be in green, especially before the time of Christmas."
Dr. Michael Warner, head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, later told CBC he was "shocked that Dr. Williams thinks its possible" for everyone to get to green in just six weeks.
"If he perceives things will get better by Christmas 2020 using the existing framework ... then I have a significant disagreement with his perspective," Warner said.
7-day average at all-time high
The seven-day average of new daily cases, a measure that helps provide a clearer picture of longer-term trends, is now 1,443, the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic.
There are some 12,830 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 province-wide, also a record-high since the outbreak began in Ontario in January.
Today's newly confirmed cases come as Ontario's labs processed 33,351 test samples for the novel coronavirus. There is capacity for up to 50,000 per day, and public health officials have previously said they hope to expand that capacity to 100,000 daily by mid-December. Testing levels have typically dropped off over weekends throughout the pandemic.
The province also recorded another 10 deaths linked to the illness, meaning 111 Ontarians have died with COVID-19 over the last week. Eight of today's newly reported deaths were in settings with an outbreak, likely long-term care or a retirement facility.
Toronto confirmed 503 more cases, while 392 were recorded in Peel and 170 in York Region.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases include:
Waterloo Region: 67
Halton Region: 46
Durham Region: 45
Simcoe Muskoka: 35
Grey Bruce: 10
The number of people with confirmed cases of the illness in Ontario hospitals rose to 500, though data from 40 hospitals is not included in today's total. Of those, 125 are being treated in intensive care and 70 are on ventilators.
Critical Care Services Ontario puts the figures slightly higher, with 132 patients now in intensive care and 76 requiring ventilators.
[Note: Unless otherwise specified, 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 in the provincial system.]
Stricter regulations begin today
Meanwhile, stricter public health measures come into effect in Hamilton, York and Halton regions today.
Toronto joined Peel Region in the red alert level — the highest short of a full lockdown — on Saturday.
Another six regions, such as Durham and Waterloo, will move to the orange alert level, and six more, including Windsor-Essex and Sudbury, will join the yellow alert level.
Today's developments come just days after Premier Doug Ford lowered the thresholds for his colour-coded restrictions system.
He said on Friday that recent COVID-19 projections show the province is "staring down the barrel of another lockdown."