Ontario is reporting a record number of COVID-19 cases for the third day in a row, even as public health officials continue to warn that case counts are now a gross underestimate of the true burden of infection given limited access to testing.

The Ministry of Health says that there were 16,713 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus confirmed by the province’s labs over the last 24 hours, with 29.8 per cent of all samples coming back positive.

Hospitalizations are also rising steadily now after previously lagging behind the sudden Omicron-fueled surge in cases that has taken place over the last few weeks.

The ministry is reporting that there are currently 205 people in intensive care units with COVID-19 and 1,144 in other hospital units. At this time last week there were only 154 people in the ICU with COVID-19 and 508 in other hospital units.

Ontario is also reporting an additional 15 deaths in people who had contracted COVID-19, which is the highest that number has been in months. Since the beginning of the pandemic a total of 10,194 people have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

“I don't necessarily have a crystal ball but we're absolutely accelerating throughout January,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore warned during a one-on-one interview with CP24 on Friday morning. “I do hope we'll be on the descent in February and in March we'll have population immunity plus immunity through our robust immunization strategy to head us off for spring and summer with a very strong protection at a population level. So that's our hope. But I do think January is going to be a rough month for us and we'll be watching the data closely.”

The latest case numbers come on more than 75,000 individual tests, which is around the supposed capacity of Ontario’s lab network.

Going forward the Ford government has indicated that it will only provide publicly-funded PCR testing to certain high-risk individuals in a bid to ensure that those who need a test the most can get timely access to one.

That, however, will mean that the daily case counts will no longer be a reflection of community spread in the weeks to come.

“I don't think we'll have any real idea of the true community burden,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch conceded during an interview with CP24 on Friday. “We will be in the dark in terms of knowing what the true burden of infection is in the community.”

More than 100 outbreaks in long-term care homes

The initial surge in COVID-19 infections following the detection of the Omicron variant was largely concentrated in younger age cohorts, however the latest data points to a rising number of cases involving elderly Ontarians.

Over the last 24 hours there were 282 new cases confirmed in people overt the age of 80, accounting for about 1.7 per cent of all lab-confirmed infections. At this time last week the age group only accounted for about 0.75 per cent of lab-confirmed infections.

There are also now 135 outbreaks being reported at Ontario long-term care homes, up from 35 one week ago.

Hospital outbreaks have also quadrupled over the last week, going from 15 active outbreaks to 60.

Speaking with CP24 earlier in the day, Moore said that that it is his belief that 30 to 40 per cent of all hospitalizations are the result of so-called “incidental cases” in which someone is taken to hospital for another condition and then tests positive for COVID-19. But he said that his office is trying to get clarity on that. 

The Ontario Hospital Association says that as of yesterday about 70 per cent of the province’s 2,343 adult intensive care beds were filled, leaving approximately 700 available beds, including surge capacity. 

“We want to be able to provide care if there's a surge in need and we're preparing the health system to be able to,” Moore told CP24 on Friday.

Right now of the 1,349 patients in hospital, including intensive care, about 43 per cent (625) are fully vaccinated and nearly 25 per cent are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. The vaccination status for the remaining patients is not known.

In intensive care specifically the number of unvaccinated patients is nearly double the number of fully vaccinated patients (89 versus 45).

Cases by public health unit

Toronto – 3,899

Peel – 1,639

York – 1,391

Durham – 766

Halton – 756

Hamilton - 865