Ontario's daily COVID-19 case count has dropped to its lowest level since late September as the number of patients in intensive care dipped below 500 for the first time in two months.

The province reported 525 new cases of COVID-19 today marking the first time in eight months that the daily case count has dropped below 600 in the province. It is also the lowest single-day total logged in Ontario since Sept. 27.

The rolling seven-day average of new infections now stands at 735, down from 1,078 last Monday.

With 15,177 tests processed over the past 24 hours, the province is reporting a test positivity rate of 3.6 per cent, down from 4.3 per cent last Monday.

COVID-19 hospitalizations also continue to decline in Ontario. According to the Ministry of Health, there are currently 547 patients infected with COVID-19 receiving treatment at Ontario hospitals and 497 of those patients are in the ICU.

One week ago, the province said there were 731 COVID-19 patients in hospital and 617 in the ICU. Up to 30 patients in Ontario hospital ICUs were transferred from Manitoba.

Ontario’s outgoing Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the province has seen some “terrific” metrics over the past couple of days.

“You saw we had a slight bump last week,” Williams said of Ontario’s case numbers. “We were worried about a couple of things, one is the impact of the Victoria Day weekend, and that seems to have been minimal,"  he said.

He added that officials were also concerned about the spread of the new, more transmissible Delta variant, which was first detected in India.

“It seems that our vaccination program has been able to temper both those,” Williams said.

Williams said most of the people who were hospitalized with COVID-19 in recent weeks were unvaccinated.

Another 15 virus-related deaths were confirmed in the province today and the average daily death toll now sits at 16, down from 19 last week.

Ontario's active COVID-19 caseload is now 7.937, down from 12,567 one week ago.

Patios, retail reopen on Friday

Declining case counts and hospitalizations along with an uptick in vaccination rates has prompted the Ford government to move up the date for entering Step 1 of the reopening plan, which would allow patio dining to resume and non-essential retail stores to reopen at 15 per cent capacity.

On Monday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed that the province will enter Step 1 on Friday, three days ahead of the initial target date of June 14.

"Thanks to the tremendous efforts of every Ontarian, beginning June 11 we will be able to cautiously lift public health measures in the settings we know are safest,” Elliott said in a news release issued on Monday afternoon.

“While this is exciting news, as we move to enter Step One of Ontario’s Roadmap it remains critical that all Ontarians continue to follow public health advice and roll up their sleeves to receive the vaccine."

The province has now administered 10 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and starting today, all Ontario residents who are 70 and older can book their second shot.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch said while the province has outlined what parts of the economy can reopen as more people are vaccinated, he noted that public health leaders in Canada need to provide guidance about what is acceptable behaviour for individuals who are fully immunized.

“It'd be very helpful to have some practical advice as to what we can now do at an individual level following a second dose of a vaccine,” he told CP24 on Monday morning.

“The CDC, they said for fully vaccinated people, that's two weeks after your second dose, if there's a bunch of fully vaccinated people you can have small indoor gatherings without masks or distancing in your house, for example. Your grandparents could hug their grandchildren. That's very, very helpful. We haven't heard of that yet in Canada.”

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.