The number of new cases of COVID-19 has dipped back below 2,000 after a one-day bump on Thursday, marking the resumption of a downward trend that has now been underway for weeks.

The Ministry of Health says that there were 1,837 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus confirmed over the last 24 hours as well as another 58 deaths.

Thirty-two of those deaths involved residents of long-term care homes.

The latest daily case counts pushes the province’s rolling seven-day average down from 2,128 to 2,010. It had stood at 3,273 two weeks ago but has been on the decline since then.

The drop-off in cases also comes amid a recent acceleration in testing, pointing to lower positivity rates overall.

The province only processed about 30,000 tests on Monday but the total has risen each day since then and on Thursday 69,040 tests were processed.

Of the new cases, 595 are in Toronto, 295 are in Peel Region, 170 are in York, 59 are in Durham, 54 are in Halton and 53 are in Hamilton.

The other major hotspot for infection was Waterloo, where an additional 91 cases were reported.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations continue to fall after reaching alarming levels in the days immediately following the holidays.

The Ministry of Health says that there were 1,291 patients with COVID-19 receiving treatment in Ontario hospitals on Thursday. That is still above the peak reached during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring but is the lowest that number has been since Jan. 4.

Of those hospitalized with COVID-19, 360 were being treated in the ICU, relatively unchanged from the day before but down from 383 at this time last week.

Speaking with CP24 earlier on Friday, infectious disease specialist Dr. Issac Bogoch said that the “current path” we are on suggests that we will continue to see fewer hospitalizations and “eventually fewer ICU stays and deaths.”

But he said that the spread of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variants in Ontario makes the future uncertain, at least in the short term.

“I think there is a lot of unknowns and we are not entirely sure how the variant is going to spread here in Canada,” he said.

Variant may mean that restrictions will have to stay even with declining case counts

The release of the latest data comes one day after officials released updated modelling which painted a rosier picture of what the next month will look like, while also warning that the B.1.1.7 variant appears like to become the “dominant strain” by March and could eventually reverse some of our progress.

So far there have been 51 confirmed cases of the variant in Ontario but that number is expected to rise once full genomic sequencing is conducted on an additional 99 samples that came back positive for a “variant of concern” following initial screening.

It is those jurisdictions that have maintained their public health measures while they have been coping with this new variant that have actually had some success and I worry a little bit about relaxing them as the prevalence of the new variant increases. It could really lead to an almost vertical like takeoff in terms of the number of cases with doubling time really shrinking down,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s COVID-19 science table, warned on Thursday.

There have been a total of 264,300 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario since the beginning of the pandemic in the spring, as well as 6,072 deaths.

More than 20,000 cases in the province are still considered active.

More to come…