Ontario reported an additional 615 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, as the province begins its move toward appointment-only testing for the illness.
Toronto recorded 289 new cases, while Peel saw 88 and Ottawa 81.
Toronto Public Health said over the weekend that it would temporarily suspend COVID-19 contact tracing outside of outbreaks in congregate settings like long-term care homes because it is overwhelmed by a surge of new cases in the city.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases today include:
- York Region: 47.
- Halton Region: 26.
- Waterloo Region: 15.
- Durham Region: 10.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said about 58 per cent of the new cases reported today are in people under 40 years old. The share of new daily cases in that demographic has been slowly but steadily creeping downward in recent weeks, a trend that provincial health officials have attributed to younger people increasingly transmitting the virus to more vulnerable, older age groups.
Some 56 of the newly-confirmed infections reported today are school-related, including 31 students, eight staff and 17 people categorized as "individuals not identified." A total of 335 of Ontario's 4,828 publicly-funded schools have now reported at least one case of COVID-19 in students or staff.
When asked by reporters at Monday's news conference exactly how many cases it would take for a school to shut down, neither Premier Doug Ford, Education Minister Stephen Lecce nor Ontario's Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams could provide an exact metric.
Instead, the government announced $35 million in funding for schools intended to hire more staff and improve at-home learning. The funding is part of the government's $1.3 billion plan to "safely reopen classrooms across the province."
Lecce said Monday's funding announcement was intended to help "avoid the scenario" of closing schools down.
"We're going to work hard to make sure our schools stay open," he said.
Meanwhile, Ontario's network of labs processed 38,196 test samples for the novel coronavirus yesterday, while the backlog of tests waiting to be completed sits at 68,006 — down from a high of more than 90,000 last week.
Ontario recently announced it would end testing for asymptomatic people at its 153 COVID-19 assessment centres, instead moving to an appointment-only model for those with symptoms of the disease. The decision was made, in part, to help labs clear the backlog of test samples.
The last day for walk-in testing was Saturday. Health experts have warned the shift could result in artificially-low new daily case counts later this week.
Social circles 'not relevant'
At Monday's afternoon news conference, Williams said some public health units, including Toronto's, are overwhelmed with the number of contacts they need to call. A significant number of people who have been testing positive for COVID-19 are reportedly admitting to having a couple hundred contacts in just a few days, Williams said.
Because of this, Ontario's Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Barbara Yaffe said they are "asking people to avoid close contact with people outside of your household."
When asked how the province's current methods apply to the social circles that were implemented in the spring, Yaffe said they are no longer relevant.
"I guess we're saying the social circle at this point is not relevant," she said. "It's evolving."
"Given the current picture, we're saying stick to your household"
Ontario has now seen a total of 54,814 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in late January. Of those, about 84.6 per cent are resolved. Another 541 were marked resolved in today's report.
There are currently around 5,474 confirmed, active cases of the illness provincewide, the most since April 26.
The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed infections also continued its steady upward climb up to 176, seven more than yesterday. That figure may be an underestimate, however, as 35 hospitals did not submit data from their daily bed censuses in time to be factored in to today's report.
Forty-three patients are being treated in intensive care, and 26 are on ventilators, the most since early July.
Further, Ontario's official COVID-19 death toll grew by five and is now 2,980.
Ford reluctant to enforce any more closures, for now
Last week, Toronto's chief medical officer Dr. Eileen de Villa announced recommendations to help curb the current resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the city. Her proposals included shutting down indoor dining at Toronto restaurants for four weeks, as well as prohibiting indoor fitness and recreation activities.
"If there's a request to shut down restaurants, I have to sit back and look at the evidence," Ford said at Monday's news conference.
WATCH: Ford urges consideration of people's livelihoods in talk of potential shutdowns
The Premier said he is reluctant to close restaurants in order to preserve income for small business owners.
"The easy thing to do is without seeing endless data is just close everything down. I'm sorry, I'm not prepared to do that to people's lives right now," Ford said.
Ford said he will impose tighter restrictions "in a heartbeat" but said he needs to see the evidence before he makes any further decisions.
"I would [need] to exhaust every single avenue before I ruin people's lives," he said. "Show me the evidence. Hard, concrete evidence."
Reporters at press conferences in recent weeks have repeatedly asked Ford and other government officials for concrete metrics the province is using to make its decisions around COVID-19 closures. The province has thus far not provided answers.
Hundreds more contact tracers coming, province says
The Ministry of Health says it is hoping to hire 600 additional contact tracers and case managers over the next five weeks to help local health units that have been especially hard-hit by a recent surge in new cases.
In an email, a spokesperson for the ministry said Toronto Public Health should expect up to 200 more staff for contact tracing efforts within four weeks, and that hiring begins today. For the time being, they will help reach out to confirmed cases of the illness before moving into contact tracing roles.
Another 150 workers will be assigned to assist Ottawa Public Health in coming weeks, the spokesperson said.
Test result page of Ontario's COVID-10 site down
Since late Monday afternoon, the "check your results" section of the Ontario government's COVID-19 site has been down.
When people have clicked on the button to get their results, they have received an error message instead.
"We'll be back soon!" it reads. "This service is currently down for maintenance. To obtain your results, please contact the clinician who ordered your test."