Ontario is reporting a record number of new cases of COVID-19 as record hospitalization numbers continue to place further strain on the healthcare system.

The Ministry of Health says that there were 4,227 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus confirmed on Thursday, along with another 18 deaths.

It is the highest number of new cases in any 24-hour period since 4,249 were reported back on January 8. But that number was inflated due to 450 older cases that were added due to data remediation.

The rolling seven-day average of new cases has risen 31 per cent over the last week and now stands at 3,255. That is just short of the second-wave peak of 3,394 on Jan. 8.

The jump in cases comes as Ontario’s healthcare system struggles to keep up with record hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

According to the latest Critical Care Services Ontario report, there are now 541 COVID-19 patients in Ontario’s ICUs after another 54 admissions over the last 24 hours.

The number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 also jumped by 75 over the last 24 hours and now stands at 1,492, also a record.

The surging numbers prompted Ontario Health President and CEO Matthew Anderson to issue a memo to hospital leaders outside of northern Ontario on Thursday asking them to “ramp down” all elective surgeries as of Monday.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has also informed its members that they will support them in following any critical care triage protocol implemented by the province, even if they violate pre-existing college policies in the process.

“This is certain a really disturbing and disappointing juncture that we have reached. It is uncharted territory in terms of the burden on ICU capacity, in terms of more surgeries that are going to have to be cancelled, in terms of more non-COVID related care that is going to be compromised, in terms of burnout for healthcare professionals that have been stretched to their absolute limit and beyond and frankly in terms of all the communities that continue to be disproportionately impacted by this,” infectious diseases specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told CTV News Channel on Friday morning. “It is really disappointing and it is upsetting when I have to think about the concept of triage being put to the test like than never before. We have talked about who may or may not be eligible for being put on a ventilator or receiving critical care admission if the situation reaches the dire scenario as it has right now and it is certainly evolving towards that. This is a tragedy that was preventable.”

The last time the province issued a stay-at-home order case counts began to decline within a week. But Sharkaway said that he “is not terribly optimistic we are going to see much of a decline in the next couple weeks” due to the likely effect of gatherings over the Easter and Passover holidays.

That, he said, could spell disaster for Ontario’s healthcare system.

“We have absolutely no margin for error at this point in the province of Ontario,” he said.

New records in most GTA health units

Of the new cases reported on Friday, nearly half of them were either in Toronto (1,218 cases) or Peel Region (762).

In the case of Peel, it is the highest daily count over the course of the entire pandemic. It is the second highest daily count reported in Toronto and the highest since Jan. 21.

York Region (532), Durham Region (247) and Halton Region (174) also set alarming new records on Friday, as cases surged across the GTA.

It should, however, be noted that the acceleration in the spread of the virus is not just restricted to the Golden Horseshoe region.

On Friday all 34 public health units reported at least one new case of COVID-19 for the second time this month.

There were 246 news cases in Ottawa, a record 159 in Middlesex-London and 96 in Simcoe-Muskoka District.

The positivity rate over the last 24 hours was 6.3 per cent on more than 61,000 individual tests.

If there is any good news to be gleaned from the data it is that the transmission of COVID-1 within long-term care homes appears to have mostly stopped following the vaccination of most residents and staff.

The positivity rate over the last 24 hours was 6.3 per cent on more than 61,000 individual tests.