Ontario reports 2,063 new COVID-19 cases, more fines for big-box stores

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Ontario reported 2,063 new cases of COVID-19 and 73 more deaths on Saturday.

The new positive cases include 713 in Toronto, 379 in Peel Region and 178 in York Region.

According to provincial data, the overall number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals dropped by 18, bringing the total to 1,273.

Patients in intensive care units dropped by seven to 353, and the number of people who required ventilators fell by 55, bringing the total to 216.

The 73 additional deaths, 24 of which were among long-term care home residents, have pushed Ontario's total COVID-19-linked death toll to 6,145.

The province says 2,623 more cases are marked as resolved, bringing the number of overall resolved cases to just under 240,500.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said as of 8 p.m. on Friday, 336,828 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered.

Saturday's number of new cases brings the rolling seven-day average to 1,968.

The province's network of labs processed about 59,000 test samples for the virus and reported a positivity rate of 3.3 per cent for three days straight.

On Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced mandatory COVID-19 testing for international arrivals at Pearson airport.

That news came a day after the province's modelling data by the COVID-19 advisory table showed that the variant of the virus first detected in the U.K. that's spreading in Ontario is a "significant threat" to controlling the pandemic.

By March, the B117 variant, first identified in the U.K., could be the dominant strain in the province, according to the data.

While maintaining existing public health intervention will likely help encourage the downward trend of cases, the province reported six more cases of the B117 variant in Saturday's numbers, bringing the total number of cases to 57.

As of Saturday, the province had confirmed 57 cases of the U.K. variant, with infections reported in new regions, including Halton and Waterloo.

Variant detected in Waterloo connected to long-term care home outbreak

Region of Waterloo Public Health announced on Saturday that the variant first detected in the U.K. was found in an individual in the region who had close contact with someone that had travelled internationally.

The case first reported on Friday is connected with an outbreak at Columbia Forest Long Term Care Home in Waterloo, the health unit said in a statement on Saturday.

"We do expect further cases will be identified as more variant testing is completed by Public Health Ontario (PHO)," the statement reads.

Three residents and 13 staff have tested positive at the home since the outbreak began on Dec. 31.

As of Saturday, 12 of the 13 staff cases have been considered resolved and there are two active COVID-19 cases in residents at the home.

The unit said it has requested PHO to conduct genome sequencing of the sample.

Big-box inspection blitz continues throughout weekend

Meanwhile, Ontario says 112 tickets have been issued to businesses and individuals in its COVID-19 inspection blitz so far this year.

The province says its officers have visited 1,147 big-box stores and other essential retail businesses so far this month and will be visiting more than 400 additional stores this weekend in Toronto, Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo.

Inspectors have been checking to see whether public health rules aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 are being followed.

"We've marshalled hundreds of officers to inspect over 1,000 businesses in a few short weeks, and we'll keep it up as long as there are bad actors out there," said Labour Minister Monte McNaughton in a news release.

The province says the blitzes in these regions this weekend will be followed by additional inspection campaigns in Halton and Huron Perth next week.

Rapid testing in schools key to reopening: province's top doctor

Meanwhile, Ontario's chief medical officer says introducing rapid testing in schools will be key to their safe reopening across the province.

Dr. David Williams says the tests will allow for greater surveillance of COVID-19 and will help students return to in-person learning across the province.

Schools in several regions of southern Ontario -- including the Greater Toronto Area -- have been entirely online since the beginning of January.

Williams has said the province hopes to open them by February 10th, however, he noted yesterday that rapid testing may not be available by that date.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Education said that students in four more public health units are allowed to return to in-person learning.

That's about 280,000 students in the following health units:

  • Middlesex-London.

  • Ottawa.

  • Southwestern.

  • Eastern Ontario.

Spike in COVID-19 cases in Indigenous communities

Meanwhile, a small spike in COVID-19 cases in northwestern Ontario Indigenous communities is a "wake-up call" for the area, a public health physician said Saturday.

Dr. John Guilfoyle with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority said that eight total active cases recently detected across five First Nations communities — Poplar Hill, Webequie, Pikangikum, Lac Seul and Nibinamik —appear to have been contained, according to contact tracing and testing so far.

Guilfoyle described the containment as good news, but said the situation is a reminder that taking precautions is more important than ever, especially given that cases were reported in four communities in a single day this week.

"This is really a wake-up call that the virus is close to our communities," Guilfoyle said in a Saturday video update.

"To get cases in four communities in one day is absolutely new, and this is a pattern we don't want to see repeated."