The provincial government is opening a new hospital in Vaughan to help relieve pressure on other facilities in the Greater Toronto Area.
The Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital was originally scheduled to open in early February as the first brand new hospital — not a replacement of an older facility or a merger with an existing facility — in Ontario in almost three decades. Premier Doug Ford made the announcement at a Monday afternoon news conference, saying it would open in "a few short weeks."
"It's like reinforcements coming over the hill," Ford said, adding that the province is also adding 500 additional surge capacity hospital beds in Toronto, Durham, Kingston and Ottawa.
Health Minister Christine Elliott also said Monday that once the situation with COVID-19 has stabilized in the province, the hospital will open as originally planned.
"The idea is this hospital is going to be used ... in order to take the load off of some other hospitals that are experiencing capacity challenges." Elliott said.
The hospital will accept both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients "based on the system needs during this surge," a spokesperson for Mackenzie Health said in a statement to CBC Toronto.
The news comes as Ontario reported 2,578 additional cases of COVID-19 on Monday, as the number of patients with the illness who required a ventilator to breathe climbed above 300 for the first time since the pandemic began.
The new cases in today's update are the fewest logged on a single day in about two and a half weeks. They include 815 in Toronto, 507 in Peel Region, 151 in both York and Niagara regions, and 121 in Hamilton.
New COVID-19 variant cases expected, Yaffe says
"Our health-care system continues to be strained with elevated numbers of people in hospital," Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, said on Monday.
Thirty-one new outbreaks were reported as of Monday, Yaffe said, which was slightly lower than Monday of the previous week.
Yaffe said Ontario is reporting 15 new cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, with the most recent case detected in London, Ont. in a patient with no known travel history.
"We do expect more cases to be identified in the weeks to follow as there is evidence of community transmission," Yaffe added.
She said the data indicated that the new strain is 56 per cent more easily transmissible in comparison to other variants.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:
Waterloo region: 85
Halton Region: 79
Durham Region: 76
Simcoe Muskoka: 65
Eastern Ontario: 36
Huron Perth: 15
Brant County: 12
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)
The additional infections come as the province's labs processed just 40,301 test samples for the novel coronavirus — tens of thousands fewer than there is capacity for in the system — and reported a test positivity rate of 6.6 per cent.
The seven-day average of new daily cases fell to 3,035. It reached a high of 3,555 on January 11.
Yaffe said Monday's figures may have been low due to the number of tests processed Sunday, which was the lowest since Jan. 5.
Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the current test positivity rate shows improvement from previous weeks when it would spike following weekends.
"The numbers are dropping, I take that as a sign that Ontarians are doing what we're supposed to be doing," Williams said on Monday.
But Williams said the province must cut its daily COVID-19 case counts to below 1,000 before lockdown measures can be lifted.
He called the goal "achievable" and said the last time the province saw similar daily case counts was late October.
Williams said he would also like to see the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units drop to 150 before lifting any restrictions.
Another 2,826 cases were marked resolved in today's report. There are now 28,621 confirmed, active infections provincewide. The number of resolved cases have outpaced new cases on six of the last seven days in Ontario.
There were 1,571 total patients with COVID-19 in Ontario's hospitals. Of those, 394 were being treated in intensive care units and 303 were on ventilators.
Revised projections released last week by the province suggested that hospitals, especially those throughout southern Ontario, risk being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks. The influx could result in doctors having to triage emergency patients, running the risk that some will not get a hospital bed when needed.
This morning, the Ontario NDP released a document they say is the province's triage protocol. However, a spokesperson for the Minister of Health later said in an email to CBC News Monday that it is not a triage protocol but rather "guidance that originated from experts in the sector, for use by the sector."
Dated Jan. 13, the 32-page document outlines the details and critical elements of the triage process should there be a major surge in COVID-19 patients requiring hospital care.
The documents say this should be considered only "as an option of last resort," prioritizes care for those "with the greatest likelihood of survival." It emphasizes the need for protection of individual human rights, non-discriminatory decision making and accountability.
The spokesperson said as of Monday, nothing has been issued or approved by the Ministry of Health.
"The expectation of the Ministry of Health is for the Bioethics Table to continue its engagement in consultations and discussions with various stakeholder groups," the statement from the ministry reads.
In a news release, the NDP said the document "shows that the crisis in hospitals is out of control" while accusing Premier Doug Ford and his government of trying to keep it out of public view.
"Had physicians not reached out to the Official Opposition and others, the directive that was written in secret, without consultation, would remain a secret," the NDP said.
Public health units also reported another 24 deaths of people with the illness, pushing the official toll to 5,433.
Vaccine clinic opens at Metro Toronto Convention Centre
A clinic dedicated to administering COVID-19 vaccines opened in a Toronto convention centre on Monday.
The same day, city officials announced the clinic will have to be paused as of Friday, due to a lack of access to vaccines.
The clinic at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, which is in the downtown core, aims to vaccinate 250 people per day, but the city noted that is entirely dependent upon vaccine supply.
City officials said the "proof-of-concept" clinic will help Ontario's Ministry of Health test and adjust the setup of immunization clinics in non-hospital settings.
The Ministry of Health said this morning that another 9,691 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in Ontario yesterday. A total of 209,788 shots of vaccine have been given out so far, while 21,752 people have received both doses and are considered fully immunized to the illness.
Pfizer-BioNTech, which manufactures one of the two Health Canada-approved vaccines, announced last week that it's temporarily delaying international shipments of the shots while it upgrades production facilities in Europe.
The Ontario government has said that will affect the province's vaccine distribution plan, and some people will see their booster shots delayed by several weeks.
Officials in Hamilton, meanwhile, said the province has directed it to temporarily cease administering the first dose of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to everyone except residents, staff and essential caregivers at long-term care homes and retirement facilities.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott did not say how many regions of the province had received that directive.