Ontario is reporting just over 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 today, one of the lowest daily case counts logged in the province in more than two months.

Ontario health officials are reporting 1,022 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus and 17 more virus-related deaths. 

With the exception of the 745 cases confirmed one week ago, an artificially low tally due to a reporting issue with Toronto Public Health, today's total is the lowest logged by the province since Nov. 24, when 1,009 new infections were reported.

Week-over-week, the seven-day average of new infections dropped from 1,746 to 1,367. Just two weeks ago on Jan. 26, the rolling seven-day average was 2,346.  

Ontario labs processed just 30,798 tests over the past 24 hours, well below provincial capacity but on par with the 28,552 tests processed last Tuesday.The provincewide test positivity rate released by the Ministry of Health today is 3.3 per cent, down from 4.6 per cent last week.

According to the latest data from the province, there are 909 COVID-19 patients at Ontario hospitals, a notable decline from 1,192 last Tuesday. Intensive care admissions remain high although the province says that number is also dropping. Provincial officials say there are currently 318 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, down from 341 last week.

It should be noted that hospitalization totals reported by local public health units indicate that the number of people with COVID-19 who are receiving treatment at Ontario hospitals is actually 1,202.

Of the new cases confirmed today, 343 are in Toronto, 250 are in Peel Region and 128 are in York Region, the three regions of the province that will have to wait for at least another two weeks before any public health restrictions are eased by the provincial government.

Businesses opening in some regions this week

On Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford announced that some COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted in three regions in eastern Ontario this week as all areas of the province gradually transition back into the provincial government's colour-coded reopening framework.

Hastings Prince Edward Public Health; Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington Public Health; and Renfrew County Public Health will be moved to the green or "prevent" zone of the province's framework starting Wednesday, meaning all retail shops, hair salons, restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theatres can reopen for business.

With the exception of Toronto, Peel Region, and York Region, the Ford government's stay-at-home order will be lifted for the remaining 28 public health units on Feb.16, at which point those regions will return to the reopening framework. For the province's three COVID-19 hot spots, restrictions will not be eased until at least Feb. 22.

Under the updated framework, all types of retailers, including ones deemed to be non-essential, will now be permitted to open in regions in the grey or "lockdown" zone. Pharmacies, convenience stores and stores that primarily sell groceries can operate in grey zones with 50 per cent of regular indoor capacity while all other retailers, including big box stores, can operate at 25 per cent capacity.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist and member of Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine task force, said it is encouraging to see community transmission of the novel coronavirus continue to trend downward.

"We are watching Ontario's case numbers drop day after day after day. We are watching the health care system slowly, but not completely, get decompressed. ICU is still a bit of an issue in many parts of the province," he told CP24 on Tuesday morning.

"The trend is certainly headed in the right direction and it is coming up to three or past three weeks of this trend... Having said that, we are still having around 1,200 to 1,500 new cases per day."

Ontario must take 'urgent action' if cases rise

He noted that transmission of the virus does appear to be "very regional" and that taking a regional approach to reopening is safe as long as it is done carefully.

"On the one hand, some regions have very little cases. On the other hand, people travel and people move around and we've seen this infection quite frankly get out of control in many, many parts of the province," he said.

"I think at the end of the day, whatever we choose to do as long as we can continue to drive cases lower, as we are seeing now, as long as we can continue along that trend, I'm fine with it.... but if cases start to plateau or if cases start to rise in various regions, I think you have to take urgent action because this is the type of infection that can get out of hand very, very quickly."

The province said Monday that there is an "emergency brake system" in place that will allow the chief medical officer of health to take "immediate action" if there is a rapid acceleration of COVID-19 transmission in a given region.

Public health experts have expressed concerns about the impact new more transmissible COVID-19 variants could have on community transmission in Ontario as regions begin to open up.

To date, 227 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, first discovered in the United Kingdom, have been confirmed in Ontario along with three B.1.351 variant cases, first found in South Africa. Officials also say one case of the P.1 variant, also known as the Brazilian variant of concern, has been discovered in Ontario.

In a statement released Tuesday, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath slammed the province's plan to reopen the economy, accusing Ford of repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

“People deserve hope that this time, when we open, we’re opening for good,” Horwath said in a news release. “We’ve been stuck in a cycle of one step forward and two steps back. We’re paying the price because Doug Ford keeps making the same mistakes again and again."

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.