Ontario reported another 3,436 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, as eligibility for vaccines opened to all residents aged 18 and older in hot-spot areas.
Adults living in the 114 specific postal codes designated as hot spots were able to start reserving appointments as of this morning, though some on social media reported long wait times or technical difficulties with the provincial booking website.
Minutes after bookings opened at 8 a.m. ET, the site showed an estimated wait of more than an hour, with tens of thousands of users in the queue. Upwards of 130,000 appointments were booked through the site Monday, Dr. David Williams, the province's chief medical officer of health, told reporters.
This week and next, the province will send half of its vaccine supply to the hot spots, based partially on recommendations from the government's science advisers.
Adults in some hot-spot neighbourhoods had already been able to make vaccine appointments, but not through the province's online booking portal.
Eligibility expands further across Ontario on Thursday, when online bookings through the government portal open up to residents aged 50 and over. People with high-risk health conditions and some groups of people who can't work from home will also become eligible.
Ontario has said it expects everyone aged 18 and over to be able to book a vaccine by the end of May.
Williams cautioned that it can take approximately three weeks for people getting their first dose to build up immunity — and often longer in older individuals.
"We have seen people come back positive in five to seven days," he said, reminding Ontarians to keep up with public health measures like physical distancing and mask wearing even after receiving their vaccines.
Williams also hinted at the possibility of an update to the province's stance on outdoor gatherings, which have been prohibited among people from separate households under the existing stay-at-home order.
"We're going to get some more updates with outdoor activities," he added. It was not clear whether that meant the province is considering relaxing its restrictions on small gatherings outdoors.
Asked if May 20 is still a realistic date for relaxing the stay-at-home measures, Williams said he believes Ontario needs to have vaccinated more than 40 per cent of its population if it is to loosen restrictions.
"Many people are discussing it. And we're trying to look at it as much as possible," he said, but could not provide specifics.
"We need to get out of this third wave," he said.
'Short-changed all along'
But at least one of the hardest-hit regions in the Toronto area isn't accepting online bookings from adults 18 and up living in its hotspots.
York Region's medical officer of health, Dr. Karim Kurji, says there simply isn't enough supply to support the move to allow all adults in the province's 114 hotspots to book their vaccines. Three clinics in York Region closed early on Monday because of what Kurji said were shortages.
"We seem to have been short-changed all along," Kurji told CBC News, saying he's calling for York's allocation to be boosted to 80,000 from 50,000.
"York Region, along with Peel and Toronto, has the highest number of cases on a daily basis in the GTA," said Kurji. Meanwhile, it's ninth on the list in terms of vaccine allocation per capita, he said.
Kurji also took issue with the way that hotspots were designated, saying the province appeared to be counting cumulative cases starting from the outset of the pandemic — also counting infections in long-term care homes whose residents have by-and-large already been vaccinated — rather than focusing specifically on infections in the third wave.
Plus, he said, the province relied on postal codes that were current in 2016, rather than existing ones.
Kurji added he has approached the province about his concerns but has so far received no response.
"There is no appetite, it appears, to correct these things," he said.
"To the people of York Region, I would say I'm so sorry we've had to prioritize the distribution of the vaccines to the 35-plus groups in the hotspots," he said. "When we can, we will be coming to the 18-plus."
Millions expected in May
Public health units collectively administered 53,880 doses of vaccines yesterday, the fewest on a single day since April 5. The drop may in part be due to pharmacies running out of available AstraZeneca doses, which was expected to happen over the weekend.
Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine task force said last week that while the federal government is working to secure more AstraZeneca doses, it is still not clear when or how many may actually arrive in the province.
As of 8 p.m. Sunday, a total of 5,378,249 people had had at least one dose, while 375,905 had gotten both shots.
Ontario has used just over 95 per cent of the 5,644,975 doses of vaccines it has received to date.
Millions more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are scheduled to arrive throughout May, including 786,240 this week.
The province also anticipates some percentage of 300,000 doses the federal government is expecting from Johnson & Johnson to land in the coming weeks. Members of the task force said they haven't yet heard exactly how much of the single-dose vaccine Ontario will get, but based on a per capita allocation it should be about 116,000.
The anticipated quickening of the immunization campaign comes as many of the province's hospitals face overwhelming demand for critical care of COVID-19 patients.
As of yesterday, there were 889 people with COVID-related illness being treated in intensive care units, according to the Ministry of Health, and 611 people were on ventilators.
Critical Care Services Ontario, a government agency that does a daily tally of patients in critical care, said that 54 more people with COVID-19 were admitted to ICUs yesterday. Patients with the illness are spending on average 11.4 days in intensive care, the agency reported, and their median age is currently about 62.
The overall number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients dropped to 1,925 from 1,961, but the ministry said that about 10 per cent of hospitals did not submit data for its daily census. That number is likely to rise again as "compliance increases," the ministry said.
WATCH | ICUs at breaking point, professionals say:
16 more COVID-linked deaths
The new cases in today's provincial report include:
985 in Toronto.
714 in Peel Region.
351 in York Region.
271 in Durham Region.
194 in Hamilton.
159 in Halton Region.
130 in Ottawa.
127 Niagara Region.
106 in Waterloo Region.
101 in Simcoe Muskoka.
The infections come as labs completed 33,179 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and Public Health Ontario logged a provincewide positivity rate of 9.7 per cent. Reported testing levels have commonly been lowest on Mondays and Tuesdays throughout the pandemic.
While daily positivity rates fluctuate based in part on how many tests are processed, the seven-day average for the past seven days has been approximately 8.3 per cent.
Meanwhile, the seven-day average of daily cases dropped to 3,577. That indicator has been trending downward since its peak at 4,370 on April 17.
Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table said that as of the end of April, about 93 per cent of all new infections in the province were caused by variants of concern, especially the B117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
The Ministry of Health also reported a further 16 deaths of people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 8,118. The seven-day average of deaths stands at 26.1, down from the third-wave high of nearly 30.