Test positivity rates for COVID-19 reached 22.4 per cent in Brampton this week, officials say, with that troubling marker an indicator of just how dire the situation has become.
"This is unfortunately the crisis that we feared," said Lawrence Loh, medical officer of health for Peel region, at a news conference Wednesday morning.
There are now a record 200 COVID-19-positive patients admitted at Brampton Civic Hospital.
"The patients fighting for their lives are our most vulnerable, our elderly, but also our essential workers who are increasingly younger, and are often our newest Canadians and our racialized residents," Loh said.
This week, he said, Brampton's test positivity is at 22.4 per cent — that's more than double the province's highest rate at 10.5 per cent, which was recorded on Monday.
Mississauga also reported a worrisome test positivity rate of 14.5 per cent on Wednesday.
The goal set by the World Health Organization is to keep positive test rates below five per cent.
At the news conference, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown urged the provincial government to prioritize the city for vaccines in pharmacies.
"If you look at every piece of medical advice in the province, it says focus on the hotspots. Focus on the areas that are facing the greatest transmission of this virus," Brown said.
Right now, he said, Brampton has eight pharmacies offering vaccines per 100,000 residents. Toronto has nine, he added, and Mississauga has 10.
Kingston, by contrast, has 26 pharmacies per 100,000 people offering vaccines, Brown said.
"I would plead with the provincial government to continue to expand the pharmacy rollout in Brampton," Brown said. "It makes no sense that the city that has the highest positivity rate, that is a clear hot spot, wouldn't be getting the same vaccine pharmacy resources as other municipalities that are not in a predicament as difficult as Brampton."
Loh said that Peel region hit 400,000 vaccine doses administered on Tuesday. He urged people to book appointments and seek them out at pharmacies where possible.
"But we cannot vaccinate our way out of this third wave," he said.
At a news conference Wednesday, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said Peel Region's seven-day moving daily average of cases is now up to 801 from 747 last week. She said in Mississauga the daily cases are now averaging 275 per 100,000, up from 226.
"ICU doctors fear hospitals across Ontario will soon be in a situation where gut-wrenching decisions will have to be made," Crombie said.
Both Peel and Toronto are now issuing orders to force businesses with five or more COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks to close.
Loh has previously said the closures will last 10 days if it is found that those infected "could have reasonably acquired their infection at work" or if "no obvious source" for transmission is identified outside of the workplace.
Loh said Wednesday that he knows this measure could be tough for businesses and residents, but added that it is necessary at this stage of the pandemic.
"We are seeing more and more workers who cannot work from home sickened and ending up in hospitals and on ventilators," he said.
"I ask employers to support this measure, by making any such leave paid for impacted employees. It's the right thing to do," Loh said.
He added that he is hopeful that changes to sick pay are on the horizon in Ontario.
The provincial government has long resisted instituting any paid sick days in Ontario, saying it doesn't want to duplicate the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB).
Medical experts and Opposition parties, meanwhile, have been adamant that the province needs to institute its own program if Ontario is to have any hope of curbing transmission of the virus.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott suggested the province might be rethinking its position.
"It was apparent yesterday with the federal budget that they weren't making any amendments to their sick benefits program and so those gaps still remain and that is what we are going to be addressing," Elliott said.