Ontario is reporting its lowest number of new COVID-19 deaths in nearly a month, as hospitalizations, case counts and outbreaks continue to decline.

The Ministry of Health reported 11 new deaths in individuals who had contracted COVID-19 on Monday, which is a notable decrease from the 32 deaths reported at this time last week.

The latest data comes after more than 1,200 Ontarians died after being diagnosed with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus in January, making it one of the most deadly months since the onset of the pandemic nearly two years ago.

But hospitalizations continue to head in a positive direction after peaking last month.

On Monday the ministry said that there were 2,155 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 486 people receiving treatment in intensive care.

While data reported at the beginning of the week is typically incomplete because some hospitals don’t upload information over the weekend, it still represents a significant decrease from one week prior when 2,983 people were in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19, including 583 in the ICU.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 previously reached a pandemic-high of 4,183 on Jan. 18 but has been steadily trending down since then, prompting some public health officials to express cautious optimism about the weeks ahead.

Of those currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 100 are children four and under, a group that now has the highest hospitalization rate per capita outside of Ontarians 60 and up. School-aged children between the ages of five and 11 account for another 22 hospitalizations, a rate which has remained relatively steady despite the reopening of schools last month.

Outbreaks and case counts on the decline

Meanwhile, case counts continue to decline but should be viewed as a significant undercount due to the limited eligibility for PCR testing.

On Monday the ministry reported 2,088 new lab-confirmed cases over a 24-hour period ending Sunday afternoon with a positivity rate of 14.2 per cent.

It’s the lowest number reported for any single 24-hour period since December and represents a 31 per cent decline from this time last week, when there were 3,043 new cases reported.

The number of outbreaks in the handful of settings with widespread access to PCR testing also continue to decrease, in relative lockstep.

As of Monday, there were a total of 288 active outbreaks at long-term care homes, 151 active outbreaks at hospitals and 57 active outbreaks at shelters. Those numbers are all down 16 to 25 per cent compared to last week.

The Ford government has said that it hopes to lift capacity limits in most indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is required as of Feb. 21, so long as public health indicators continue to improve. It also plans to allow 50 per cent capacity at sporting events, concert venues, and theatres at that time.

However, the panel of scientists advising the government on its pandemic response has warned that hospitalizations will “rebound” in the wake of some public health restrictions being lifted and will remain at a “prolonged peak” in all but under the “most favourable of assumptions.”

Adding to the uncertainty is the relatively wide range of Ontarians who may have contracted COVID-19 in recent months. The scientists say that there could be anywhere from 1.5 to four million Ontarians with a recent infection. The higher that number is the better the next few weeks and months could go. 

“It will now really depend on the next few weeks for us to see where we are. The most important part really is that we need to be able to have enough time to distinguish between a scenario that is potentially best case and then we say ‘OK, we can do a next step of reopening’ or a scenario that doesn't look that exciting and it could be that mid-March or end March we reach a peak which is higher regarding hospital occupancy or ICU occupancy,” Dr. Peter Jüni, who is the head of the science table, told CP24 last week. “We want to avoid that. Therefor it has to be careful moving forward.”

As of Sunday, 89 per cent of Ontarians aged five and older had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 84 per cent had received two doses and 47 per cent have gotten a booster shot.

About 54 per cent of children aged five to 11 have received at least one dose, up from 53 per cent last week. 

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.