Ontario is reporting a record 5,790 new cases of COVID-19 over the last 24 hours as the Omicron variant continues to trigger a pre-holiday surge in lab-confirmed infections.

It is the highest single-day case count ever reported, easily surpassing the then record 4,812 infections that were confirmed at the height of the third wave of the pandemic on April 16.

Ontario’s rolling seven-day average of new cases now stands at 4,001, up a staggering 164 per cent from this time last week and 279 per cent from two weeks ago. The province is also reporting another seven deaths in people who have contracted COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the positivity rate continues to surge. 

Over the last 24 hours Ontario’s labs processed 68,191 tests, getting closer to the system’s current daily capacity which is believed to be capped at around 76,000 samples.

The positivity rate on the samples processed over the last 24 hours was 16 per cent, up from 10.7 per cent one day prior and around three per cent earlier this month. That is the highest positivity rate reported throughout the entire pandemic in Ontario and likely suggests that some cases are being missed. 

“I think we are going to see testing keep going up. I think the right thing to do and I think the government is starting to look at this is really examining who actually should be tested,” Michelle Hoad, CEO of the Medical Laboratory Professionals' Association of Ontario, told CP24 on Thursday morning. “If we are logical about this we know that if you exhibit symptoms the right thing for you to do is to stay home and isolate. Getting a PCR test because you think you need one to see a family member though the holidays is not the right thing to do because our system can’t handle that.”

Omicron now accounts for nearly 90 per cent of cases

The steep increase in case counts and positivity rates comes with the Omicron variant, which is believed to be four to eight times as infectious as Delta, now accounting for an estimated 87 per cent of all new infections.

The Ontario Science Advisory Table also estimates that cases involving variant are doubling on average every 3.3 days, pointing to further exponential growth over the course of the holidays.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said earlier this week that only 15 of the more than 4,000 lab-confirmed cases involving the Omicron variant have required hospitalization so far.

But he has warned that hospitalizations will inevitably increase due to sheer number of cases we are now seeing, even if the new variant does prove to be less virulent.

According to the latest data released by the Ministry of Health there are now 169 people in intensive care with COVID-19, up only slightly from this time last week when there were 165.

However, the number of COVID-19 cases being treated in other hospital units is up 34 per cent week-over-week and now stands at 440.

There are also hundreds of active outbreaks in Ontario, including 32 in recreational facilities, 23 in bars and restaurants and 14 in retail stores. 

The growth in cases is being experienced in most jurisdictions but is becoming particularly pronounced in Toronto, where a new single-day high of 1,527 infections were reported on Thursday.

The rolling seven-day average in the city has now risen 269 per cent over the last week to stand at 1,059. Toronto also has among the highest weekly case counts per capita at 170 per 100,000 people, trailing only Halton Region, Kingston and Ottawa.

As recently as November, the city had among the lowest case counts adjusted for population with the Delta variant spreading more widely in smaller communities, particularly in Northern Ontario.\

“In Toronto our situation has progressed quickly. We're now seeing more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases each and we can expect even more in the next several days, along with a steady increase in our percent positivity and in the reproductive number. This isn't where we want to be, especially during the holiday season and after the past 22 months that we have all endured I know it is exhausting,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa conceded following a photo-op at an immunization clinic earlier on Thursday. “This holiday season I am asking you once again to explore creative ways to connect while remaining safe. Please consider meeting with friends and family outdoors or virtually. If you are meeting indoors in a small group with other vaccinated individuals. consider opening a window to increase ventilation.”

Of the nearly 6,000 cases confirmed on Thursday more than 1,100 involved individuals who are not fully vaccinated, roughly equaling their overall share of the population.

Among those in intensive care with COVID-19 unvaccinated individuals do continue to make up a disproportionate share (137 of 169 patients).

Case counts by public health unit in the GTHA:

Toronto – 1,157

Peel Region – 491

York Region – 470

Durham Region – 334

Hamilton – 277

Halton Region - 259