For the third consecutive day, Ontario’s daily COVID-19 case count has dropped below 2,000, with fewer than 1,700 new cases confirmed in the province today.

Ontario is reporting 1,670 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the lowest number of new infections logged in a single day since Nov. 26 and nearly 1,000 fewer cases than the 2,655 reported just one week ago.

On Tuesday, 1,740 new infections were reported and 1,958 were confirmed on Monday, although those numbers corresponded with a massive drop in testing. Fewer than 31,000 tests were completed on Tuesday and just 36,000 were processed on Monday, less than half of the capacity of provincial labs.

More than 55,000 tests were processed over the last 24 hours, a marked improvement in testing compared to the previous two days.

Another 49 virus-related deaths have been reported in the province today, including 25 long-term care home residents.

Today’s numbers mark a continuation of an encouraging trend in the province, which has seen a decline in active cases, hospitalizations, and positivity rates in recent weeks.

According to the Ministry of Health, the provincewide test positivity rate today is four per cent, down from 5.9 per cent yesterday and 4.9 per cent last week.

The seven-day average of new cases is now 2,205, down from 2,849 last Wednesday and nearly 3,500 two weeks ago. Active infections have dipped to 21,932, close to 5,000 fewer than the number of active cases last week.

Recent data released by the province indicates that virus-related hospitalizations are continuing to drop. An estimated 1,382 COVID-19 patients are currently receiving treatment at Ontario hospitals, down by more than 200 from last week. Intensive care admissions have also declined to 377, down from 395 seven days ago.

According to the province, there are 450 new cases in Toronto today, 342 in Peel, 171 in York Region, and 128 in Niagara Region.

UK variant ‘may be more widespread’

The decline in case growth comes amid concerns about community transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant in Ontario, a more contagious COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

At least 51 cases of the UK variant have been confirmed in the province so far, including six at Roberta Place, a long-term care home in Barrie.

On Tuesday, Dr. Charles Gardner, the medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said data from Public Health Ontario indicates that at least another 99 cases have come back positive for a “variant of concern” in a first screening test. Gardner said full genome sequencing will be conducted to determine if these cases are in fact the UK variant.

All but two of the 129 residents at Roberta Place have tested positive for COVID-19 along with 92 staff members at the facility. Gardner said he believes all cases linked to the outbreak at Roberta Place are the B.1.1.7 variant, though that has not yet been formally confirmed by provincial labs.

Gardner said that while the majority of the 99 new cases flagged for the variant have links to the outbreak at Roberta Place, two do not.

One case is believed to be associated with an outbreak at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, while a second case has no known links to any outbreaks in the province.

“This certainly makes us concerned that the variant may be more widespread, and that in turn means that we need to really take public health measures that prevent spread of the virus much more to heart,” Gardner said in a written statement released on Tuesday.

Numbers in this story come from daily data released by the Ministry of Health at 10:30 a.m.