More than 14 per cent of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ontario over the last week have screened positive for a variant of concern.

There have only been 400 confirmed cases of COVID variants so far but Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe revealed on Monday that the number of specimens that have screened positive for a variant and are awaiting full genomic sequencing is actually 16,495.

That includes 14.3 per cent of the more than 5,000 positive cases screened for a mutation between Feb. 15 and 21, she said.

“With our variants of concern and their ease of transmissibility from person to person you are going to have to be more vigilant personally than maybe you have been up to now,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said during a briefing. “This is a pivotal time.”

The latest data on variants of concerns come as Ontario reports 1,058 new cases of COVID-19, marking the fifth consecutive day that the daily case count has surpassed 1,000 in the province.

The number of new infections reported today was lower than the 1,087 new cases logged on Sunday but up from the 964 cases confirmed one week ago.

A little over 31,000 tests were conducted over the past 24 hours, on par with the number of tests conducted last Monday.

According to provincial health officials, the provincewide test positivity rate is now 3.3 per cent, which is unchanged from last week.

The rolling seven-day average of new cases now sits at 1,045, down only slightly from 1,051 last Monday.

Eleven more virus-related deaths were confirmed on Monday, pushing the seven-day average to 24, up from 23 last Monday. Since the start of the pandemic, 6,872 people in Ontario have died after contracting the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The number of confirmed active COVID-19 cases in Ontario continues to decline week-over-week. Ontario health officials say there are currently 10,335 active infections, down from 11,725 last week.

The province says there are now 646 people with COVID-19 receiving treatment in Ontario hospitals, including 280 in intensive care. At this point last week, the Ministry of Health said there were 739 COVID-19 patients in hospital and of those, 293 were in the ICU.

Local public health units, however, are reporting more than 800 virus-related hospitalizations today and a Toronto doctor, citing a report from Critical Care Services Ontario, said there are at least 324 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, including 204 breathing with the help of a ventilator.

Of the new cases reported today, 325 are in Toronto, 215 are in Peel, and 87 are in York Region.

York Region enters red zone today

While Toronto and Peel Region remain under a stay-at-home order and have yet to return to the province's colour-coded reopening framework, York Region officially entered the red zone today. This means that restaurants in the region can reopen with up to 10 patrons inside at one time and gyms are also now open with reduced indoor capacity. Hair salons, barbershops, and even casinos can reopen in the red zone and indoor gatherings of up to five people and outdoor gatherings of up to 25 are permitted.

The medical officers of health in both Peel and Toronto asked to remain under strict lockdown measures due growing concern over how more transmissible COVID-19 variants are circulating in the community.

The province's own science table has said the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom, will likely be the dominant strain by March. According to the Ministry of Health, there are now a total of 390 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Ontario and hundreds more probable variant cases that are awaiting further testing.

"It does cause more significant outbreaks," Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist and member of Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine task force, said of the UK variant on Monday.

"It is completely possible to keep it under control here... it just means it is harder to keep it under control."

He told CP24 that the province's new "emergency brake," which would allow Ontario's chief medical officer of health to immediately implement additional restrictions in a region if cases begin to surge, will likely need to be pulled to prevent further lockdowns.

"If we are going to navigate the next couple of months safely, and not have a third wave, we will probably need to pull that emergency brake at some point," Bogoch said.

"It is probably necessary....At the end of the day, nobody wants another lockdown, nobody needs another lockdown, lockdowns are completely preventable and perhaps we can use that emergency brake wisely to prevent that from happening."


The numbers used in this story are found in the Ontario Ministry of Health's COVID-19 Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any city or region may differ slightly from what is reported by the province, because local units report figures at different times.