Ontario reported 18 new COVID-19 deaths on Friday as the province’s ICU burden caused by coronavirus infection fell to its lowest point in more than one month.

The Ministry of Health says all 18 deaths occurred in the past 30 days.

Three of the deaths involved residents of the long-term care system.

There have been 131 deaths reported in the past week, and 480 reported in the past 30 days, of a total since March 2020 of 13,052.

Test positivity, wastewater prevalence and hospitalizations continue to fall, giving health officials confidence that the province is solidifying its exit from the sixth wave.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore told CP24 he’s “cautiously optimistic” the province will have a summer free of new COVID-19 surges.

“We’re in a better place than we were – I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll have a better summer as the weather improves,” he said. “It’s way better to be outdoors than indoors – we all need to get our mental, physical and social wellbeing back.”

He said that the province has successfully administered 14,000 courses of the Pfizer antiviral medication Paxlovid since late January and an average of 20,000 people are receiving third or fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine each day.

Earlier projections about the sixth wave of COVID-19 pointed to up to 600 patients in ICU during May, something Moore said he never agreed was possible.

“While some people said we were going to have 600 or 700 – I never thought that was going to be the case.”

The Ministry of Health said there were 1,453 people testing positive for COVID-19 admitted to hospitals across Ontario on Friday, down from 1,662 one week ago.

Of those, 168 were in intensive care, down seven from yesterday and 32 from one week ago.

It’s the lowest overall ICU burden caused by COVID-19 the province has seen since April 9.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health released Moore’s response to a request earlier this month from three local medical officers of health who asked for mandatory masking to return to settings such as schools, workplaces and universities, arguing virus spread was starting to impact the ability of area hospitals to complete needed surgeries.

Moore denied their request, and said Friday they were able to act on their own.

“I also want to acknowledge they have always had that ability to issue an order like I can issue an order.”

Of the 1,969 cases confirmed in the past 24 hours through PCR testing, the Ministry of Health says 212 people were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, 370 had two doses of vaccine, 1,264 had three doses of vaccine and the vaccination status of 123 others was not known.

Provincial labs processed 16,020 test specimens in the previous period, generating a positivity rate of 12 per cent.

The average positivity in the province among individuals eligible for testing has fallen to roughly 12 per cent, from 14 per cent in the previous week.

Ontario administered 28,144 COVID-19 vaccine doses on Thursday.

Of those, 1,159 were first doses, 1,409 were second doses, 2,689 were third doses and 22,887 were fourth doses.

Across all age groups, 84.6 per cent of people have at least one dose of a vaccine, 81.5 per cent have two doses of vaccine and 49.1 per cent have at least three doses of vaccine.

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.