Ontario reported 987 more cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 16 additional deaths linked to the illness, the most on a single day since a resurgence of infections began in late summer.
The newly confirmed cases push the seven-day average to slightly more than 972, the highest at any point during the pandemic. The seven-day average is a measure that helps to provide a clearer picture of longer-term trends in daily case counts, rather than day to day comparisons.
Toronto recorded 319 new cases, the most of any public health unit. Peel Region saw another 299, and York Region 85.
Peel and York are currently in the final stretch of a 28-day modified Stage 2, but on Saturday both will instead move to the province's "restrict" category, corresponding with the orange level of risk in the new system rolled out by the government Tuesday.
Toronto will follow Peel and York into the same category one week later. Some health experts who spoke to CBC News, however, cautioned that the colour-coded framework sets thresholds for imposing further COVID-19 public health measures too high. (You can read the government's presentation on the new system at the bottom of this story.)
Premier Doug Ford defended his government's plan Wednesday.
"I think this is a good plan. It's unprecedented when it comes to transparency," he said.
Durham Region, meanwhile, confirmed 62 more infections Wednesday.
Other areas that saw double-digit increases include:
Halton Region: 47
Simcoe Muskoka: 25
Waterloo Region: 21
Another 945 cases were marked resolved in today's report.There are currently some 8,321 confirmed, active infections provincewide.
The new cases reported today come as the province's labs completed 28,567 tests for the novel coronavirus, a third straight day with fewer than 30,000 tests. The current capacity is about 50,000 daily, and provincial health officials said this week there is now a target to build capacity for 100,000 laboratory tests daily by mid-December, in addition to about 100,000 rapid tests scheduled to be deployed to priority groups starting this month.
At the province's daily news conference Wednesday, Ford said he "can't force people to get tested." Testing levels were higher through the summer, when asymptomatic testing was allowed in Ontario. Demand for tests shot up as the virus's second wave spread, which led to a backlog that has since been cleared.
"Outside of knocking on every door and dragging people to get tested, our capacity is up to 50,000 right now," Ford said.
"If you're showing symptoms, please go get tested."
The province also added 16 more deaths to its official COVID-19 toll, which now stands at 3,182. In the last seven days, 71 people with COVID-19 have died in Ontario, while the seven-day average of deaths climbed slightly above 10 with today's figures.
Further, the number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose to 367, the most so far during the second wave of the illness. During the spring peak, more than 1,000 patients with COVID-19 were in hospital.
Of the 367 current patients, 75 are being treated in intensive care and 44 are on ventilators.
Rules in new colour-coded system could change, Yaffe says
Under the new colour-coded system, areas with the lowest levels of virus case counts, positivity rates and community transmission will be placed in a green category, with the most permissive rules.
It then moves upward through yellow, orange and red categories, with increasingly strict measures, and has a grey "lockdown" level where maximum measures would be implemented.
Critics said some of the system's metrics are problematic, pointing to the requirement of a 10 per cent positivity rate before an area moves from the orange category to the red one.
Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health said the rules could be subject to change.
"If we find that there are issues with the framework, we'll certainly be making recommendations to the government," Dr. Barbara Yaffe said.
System guaranteeing 'disastrous outcome,' expert says
Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist with the University of Toronto, said the new framework sets the bar to move a community into the red category so high that it won't be achieved before significant community spread occurs.
"This is guaranteeing a really disastrous outcome," he said. "The way it's been implemented is ham-fisted and frankly dangerous."
Furness added that the province needs to do more surveillance testing of people in at-risk positions, such as front-line health workers, bar and restaurant workers and teachers in schools with poor ventilation, to better control the virus.
The CEO of the Ontario Registered Nurses' Association said the new system will contribute to spread of the illness and parts of the province could end up in lockdowns in the new year.
"Winter is coming, and by then we will have no chance if things are out of control," said Doris Grinspun, who suggested Ford was under pressure from his own legislators to ease restrictions in certain areas.
"Will he follow the best evidence of epidemiologists and public health officials or ... will he cater to the pressure of his caucus?"
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she's concerned that Ford is not listening to health experts
"The government needs to really have a hard look if that many experts, and there are many coming forward, are saying this is going to march us right into a crisis," she said.