Ontario’s top public health official says that he would be “surprised” if the numbers in Toronto and Peel were to improve enough in the next 28 days to justify moving the regions out of the lockdown category in the province’s tiered framework for COVID-19 restrictions.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams made the comment during a briefing on Monday afternoon, hours after the Ministry of Health reported a record 1,589 new instances of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus as well as another 19 deaths.

“We would be surprised to see that we were out of this in four weeks but that is a surprise that I would be happy to be caught off guard by. But I agree it is seemingly unlikely at this time when we are logical about it,” he said.

The 1,589 new cases confirmed on Monday were a new high for any single 24-hour period, just barely topping the previous high of 1,588 that was reported on Saturday. It also represent a more sizeable increase on the 1,487 new cases that were reported last Monday.

Meanwhile, the seven-day average of new cases increased again and now stands at 1,429. That, however, is still down from this point last week when it stood at 1,443.

Speaking with reporters, Williams said that there are some “encouraging” signs when it comes to the numbers, especially in Toronto which he said is “seemingly holding the line at the moment.”

The problem, he said, is that the numbers are generally still “going the wrong way.”

“It is encouraging that we are not going up as rapidly as the models had said we might be but at the same time we are still having high numbers,” he said.

Dip in testing

The latest positive cases reported on Monday came on just 37,471 tests, repeating a trend that typically sees the province report fewer results at the beginning of the week due to a drop off in testing over the weekend.

The positivity percentage over the last 24 hours was 4.6 per cent. It is the highest that number has been since last Tuesday.

The vast majority of the new cases do continue to be clustered in Peel (535 cases), Toronto (336 new cases) and York (205 new cases) with those three regions accounting for more than two-thirds of all new infections.

But the transmission of the virus does seem to be accelerating in communities across Ontario, as officials have warned.

On Monday there were 83 new cases reported in Waterloo, as the region officially moved into the red zone in Ontario’s COVID-19 framework. There was also another 41 new cases in Durham, 53 in Halton and 61 in Hamilton.

“Toronto and Peel make up about 59 per cent (of the new cases) and that is down from what is used to be in the past where if you took Toronto and Peel and combined with York you would be closer to 75 or 80 per cent of the cases,” Williams said. “While that is reassuring in one way it means we are having a lot more cases out in other areas.”

Modelling had warned of higher case counts by now

Modelling released earlier this month had warned that Ontario could see about 2,000 to 2,500 cases a day by this point en-route to 3,500 to 6,500 daily cases by mid-December but it would appear that we have fallen off that pace somewhat.

There are, however, still alarming indicators that point to challenging days on the horizon.

There are now 156 COVID-19 patients receiving treatment in the ICU and some hospitals have already had to cancel some elective surgeries and procedures to accommodate the influx.

Deaths are also steadily increasing after lagging behind the rise in case counts for months.

Over the last seven days an average of 19 COVID patients have died each day, up slightly from this time last week when the seven-day average was 18.

If there is reason for optimism, it comes in the form of encouraging news on the vaccine development front.

On Monday morning AstraZeneca reported that its vaccine appeared to be up to 90 per cent effective in late-stage trials. Moderna Inc. and Pfizer have also reported that their vaccines are more than 90 per cent effective with the latter having recently applied for emergency use authorization from U.S. officials.

“With these vaccine studies it is great news and it is always OK to take a stop along the way and smell the roses and a have a small celebration but we have to stay the course,” infectious diseases expert Dr. Issac Bogoch told CP24 on Monday, prior to the release of the latest numbers. “Our masks, our distancing, our hand sanitization, getting vaccinated for the flu. Just continue to adhere to these public health measures and it is clear that things are going to get better and better and better but we are not there yet. So just double down, hold the fortress, continue to practice our public health measures and we will be ok. We really will.”