Health officials in Ontario said Monday that a steady rise in COVID-19 cases could be attributable to an increased number of gatherings on the Mother’s Day weekend.  

For the fifth consecutive day, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario surpassed 400.

Ontario is now reporting 404 new cases of the virus, down from the 460 reported one day prior.

There were 412 new cases of the virus reported on Friday, 441 on Thursday, and 413 on Wednesday.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the recent spike in new cases can be traced back to the Mother’s Day weekend, where people were “seeing families when they should not have been more than five people together.”

According to the province’s epidemiological summary released Monday, which provides data from one day earlier, there are now 25,904 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in Ontario.

While today's data marks the lowest number of new cases the province has seen in recent days, case growth does not appear to be declining at the rate health officials had previously hoped.

Earlier this month, the province saw positive signs that new cases were decreasing, with the number dropping to as low as 294 on May 9.

But the number of new cases in a single day has not dropped below 300 since that date.

On Monday afternoon, Ontario’s chief medical officer also said the bump in cases is traceable to the Mother’s Day weekend.

“If we look back at this current little blip— I hope it’s a little one, it’s coming down again — it goes back to people during the weekend around the Mother’s Day weekend,” Dr. David Williams said.

He said increased transmission of the virus may have resulted from people thinking “they could be a bit more casual” and suggested that could be the reason why Ontario has seen a daily increase in the 400-range lately instead of something lower.

The premier’s own Mother’s Day celebrations came under fire after he told reporters that two of his daughters, who are not members of his household, came to his home for a visit.

Garden centres and hardware stores were also allowed to reopen that weekend and there were reports of long lineups at some stores. Stores with street entrances were allowed to reopen for curbside pickup on May 11. However officials did not say whether they believe that the reopening of those stores played a role in the current uptick in cases.

"What we are going to see going in towards the end of this week will really be based more on the opening up of the economy that started up last week and that’s where both Dr. Williams and I will be very interested in the numbers," Elliott said on Monday.

"We hope that they will continue to go down but if they continue to increase that will be a time for us… to look at the situation, understand why the numbers are increasing and take action or don’t take action going forward."

The province has previously suggested that it was looking to increase the size of allowable gatherings beyond five people but due to the rise in cases, that directive has been “pushed back.”

"We had been discussing pools of people that could be together, the social cohorting and so on, but given what's happened with the numbers of people coming down with COVID in the last few days, along with what has happened over this past weekend with large groups of people coming together in Trinity Bellwoods and other parks, Dr. Williams is reluctant to move forward with that right away," Elliott said.

''There is a concern about people creating groups that are too large. So it is something that is coming forward but it has been pushed back a little bit."

Williams said the province is now monitoring to see if there is a bump in cases that can be attributed to the Victoria Day long weekend.

“The question is for the following weekend, Victoria Day weekend, are we going to see a similar bump again,” Williams said.

He said the effects of increased gathering, as measured in increased COID-19 cases, is usually noticeable about seven to 10 days later.

“Therefore we would see a plateau and then a blip and then another plateau and then a blip,” Williams said. “That would be concerning because it could mean that people on the weekend have a sense that they can throw off all caution.”

Deaths in Ontario surpass 2,100

The province also reported 29 more deaths on Sunday, four more than the 25 confirmed on Saturday.

There have now been 2,102 virus-related deaths in Ontario and 19,698 recoveries.

The new cases come as the province continues to fail to meet its testing targets.

Despite having the capacity to turn around 20,000 tests per day, only 8,170 tests were processed on Sunday.

Premier Doug Ford has vowed to ramp up testing numbers and is now urging anyone who feels like they may have been exposed to the virus to go to an assessment centre to get tested.

“The only way we can get those testing numbers up, the only way we can get those numbers where they need to be, is for everyone who feels they need it, to get a test. It's very simple,” the premier said on Sunday.

“I'm asking the people of Ontario, if you are worried if you have COVID-19, or that you've been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, even if you are not showing symptoms, please go get a test.”

Virus hot spots include parts of Toronto, Peel Region

Ford said the province will be releasing a “detailed testing strategy” sometime this week and the new strategy will include targeting certain sectors and COVID-19 “hot spots."

The premier said some of the hot spots include parts of Toronto and Peel Region, as well as areas in the Windsor-Essex region.

“We measure it by postal codes and….some areas are lighting up like a Christmas tree,” Ford said at Queen's Park on Monday.

Ford said he was happy to see lineups for the first time at some assessment centres in the GTA on Monday.

“We really going to drive the testing, get people out where the hot spots are, get them tested. It is absolutely criticaI... I want as many people tested as possible, asymptomatic, symptomatic," he said.

“Wouldn't it we be great if we catch a lot people that don't show symptoms... that are going around spreading it. No fault of their own, by the way.”

Other highlights from today’s data:

  • GTA public health units account for 64.8 per cent of all cases
  • 56.1 per cent of cases are female and 43 are male
  • Close to 13 per cent of all cases involved hospitalization
  • Heath care workers represent about 17 per cent of all cases (4,415)
  • All but 93 deaths have been in people ages 60 and older and no one under 19 has died from the virus in Ontario
  • The number of people are currently hospitalized with the virus has dropped to 859 from  878 
  • The number of people in intensive care is unchanged at 148 and 114 patients are on a ventilator, up 10 from one day prior
  • Three more outbreaks were reported in long-term care, bringing the total number of outbreaks to 295