Ontario is reporting its highest number of new cases of COVID-19 since May 8, marking the continuation of a worrisome trend that has seen numbers on the rise for close to a week now.

The Ministry of Health says that there were 441 new cases of the virus confirmed on Thursday, up from 413 new cases on Wednesday.

Alarmingly, the province has now seen its rolling five-day average of new cases steadily increase for close to a week.

It was 326 on Monday but since then it has gone up to 360, 370, 375 and now 395.

The jump also comes as many retail stores slowly reopen as part of the first phase of Ontario’s three-phase plan to restart the economy.

“We are seeing some peaks and valleys but hopefully we are going to see the trend go down because I know in the last few days it has gone up and it is concerning,” Premier Doug Ford said on Friday. “These are things that you are up all night thinking about. It is tough.”

The province allowed retail stores to reopen on Tuesday and has also permitted the resumption of all construction projects and the use of some park amenities, including sports fields.

Officials, however, have said that the rise in cases may not be directly related to the loosening of restrictions since there is usually a delay in the onset of symptoms.

In other words, the new cases confirmed on Thursday likely involve people who contracted the virus before the province began the first phase of its reopening plan.

Officials have nonetheless expressed concern about the rise in cases, especially amid a drop-off in testing that Ford concedes has been “shocking.”

The province has the ability to turn around 20,000 individual tests each day and was approaching that capacity at times earlier this month but on Monday it conducted just 5,813 tests. That number has slowly risen but only reached 11,276 on Thursday, still far off the benchmarks set by Queen’s Park.

Speaking during his daily briefing at Queen’s Park, Ford said that the province would begin testing all healthcare workers this weekend, including asymptomatic ones. He said that testing would also be ramped back up in long-term care homes after the province recently completed testing on all residents and staff in the 626 licensed facilities in Ontario.

“We are going to be going hard all weekend and I will be here following up to make sure this is happening," he said.

Meanwhile, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath is demanding the province start testing all asymptomatic residents of other group settings such as shelters, group homes and correctional facilities.

She also wants mobile screening vans to start conducting testing of asymptomatic people in the community, similar to what was announced in Windsor-Essex earlier today.

Associate Ontario Chief Medical Officer Dr. Barbara Yaffe said that the recent increase in cases is “concerning” and they are closely monitoring sources of new infection, saying cases are centred around Toronto, Peel Region, York Region, Ottawa and Windsor.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the command table is considering whether to deploy mobile “buses” to conduct COVID-19 tests in the worst-hit neighbourhoods of some Ontario cities.

They are also preparing to test asymptomatic people in the “highest risk settings” such as hospitals.

More than 2,000 deaths

The latest data indicates that there were another 28 deaths involving people who have contracted COVID-19 on Thursday, which brings the province’s death toll past 2,000 for the first time to 2,021.

That number does lag behind individual reporting by Ontario’s 34 public health units, though. As of  4 p.m.., the health units were reporting a total of 2,093 COVID-19 related deaths.

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, remain stable.

On Thursday there were 961 patients in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19, down from 984 one day prior. Of those people, 153 of them were in intensive care unit beds. That number has been steadily trending down since reaching a high of 264 in early April.

While the province had previously seen the number of people recovering from the virus surpass the number of new cases, that trend appears to have stopped.

On Thursday there were 258 more cases moved over to “recovered” for a total of 18,767.

Other highlights from the data:

  • There are now 4,239 confirmed cases in healthcare workers, accounting for more than 17 per cent of all cases
  • Thursday was the first day in weeks in which the number of outbreaks at long-term care homes was unchanged. There have been 287 outbreaks, 211 of which are still considered active
  • There have been 24,628 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province
  • Long term-care residents account for about 60 per cent of all deaths (1,262)
  • Greater Toronto Area public health units account for 63.9 per cent of all cases