For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March, Ontario is reporting more than 1,000 new daily cases of the novel coronavirus.

The province logged 1,042 new infections and seven new fatalities on Sunday.

The new record-high breaks the previous all-time high of 978 new cases recorded yesterday in the province.

On Friday, 826 infections were logged in Ontario and 841 cases were recorded on Thursday.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases now stands at 857 compared to 747 a week ago.

The majority of new cases continue to be in the Greater Toronto Area.

“Locally, there are 309 new cases in Toronto, 289 in Peel, 117 in York Region, 80 in Ottawa and 52 in Durham. There are 736 more resolved cases,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted on Sunday.

Elsewhere in the GTA, Halton recorded 31 new infections, up from 21 a day ago.

Durham and Halton are the only regions left in Stage 3 of the province’s reopening framework as Toronto, Peel and York were moved back to a modified version of Stage 2 earlier this month in an effort to reduce rising case counts.

The province ordered indoor dining, gyms and movie theatres to shut down for 28 days and they won’t be allowed to reopen until the province deems it safe to do so.

Premier Doug Ford said on Friday that the provincial government is considering moving Halton and Durham to Stage 2 as well as daily case counts continue to rise throughout the GTA.

However, officials from both regions have expressed concerns that many small businesses wouldn’t be able to survive the impacts of the stricter measures.

This weekend a group of politicians from Halton issued a letter to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams asking that the government target certain high-risk activities and locations rather than impose blanket restrictions.

“Our small businesses for example have not yet been traced to any cases to them so we’re just very anxious that a scientific data-based approach is used,” Oakville Mayor Rob Burton told CP24. “We think that the method that the province is using for the schools is the method that should be used for the rest of us.”

Ford said a decision is expected to be announced on Monday.

Of the 34 public health units included in the Ministry of Health’s epidemiological summary, 19 logged five or less new cases of the virus on Sunday.

People between the ages of 20 and 39 continue to represent the majority of new cases with 390 infections on Sunday. People 80 years old and over accounted for 55 of the new cases.

Retirement homes recorded five COVID-19 outbreaks on Sunday compared to one outbreak a day earlier. Meanwhile, there are seven outbreaks at long-term care homes and three in hospitals.

Provincial labs processed nearly 38,800 tests within the last 24 hours. This raises the province’s positivity rate to 2.6 per cent, up from 2.2 per cent a day ago.

More than 23,600 test specimens are still under investigation.

There are now 7,120 active cases of the novel coronavirus across the province, compared to over 5,800 a week ago.

To date, there have been more than 70,300 cases of the virus in the province and over 60,100 recoveries. Ontario’s death toll stands at 3,093.

According to the Ministry of Health, 278 people are currently hospitalized for the virus but the ministry said this number could be higher as about 40 hospitals did not submit data for Oct. 23.

Seventy-nine patients are currently in an intensive care unit and 54 of those patients are breathing with the help of a ventilator.

Rising cases could be a result of Thanksgiving

The Ministry of Health released a statement on Sunday’s numbers and says it takes about two weeks for public health measures to show their impact on COVID-19 transmission and that the government will “continue to closely monitor the situation in the coming days.”

The ministry also acknowledged that Thanksgiving might have played a factor in Ontario’s rising case count.

“While today's data is concerning, the increase in cases may be the result of Thanksgiving gatherings,” reads the statement issued to CP24 on Sunday. “We continue to urge all Ontarians to do their part and not let their guard down by continuing to limit close contact and practice the public health measures that we know work and keep us safe.”

Infectious Diseases Specialist Issac Bogoch says that when looking at the data, particularly the seven-day rolling average, the trend in new cases is “not going in the right direction.”

He also agrees that the grim milestone could be a result of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“I think we can look at this in a couple of different ways. One, this is about two weeks after Thanksgiving and this might be a real reflection of rising cases after Thanksgiving, it could be,” Bogoch tells CP24 on Sunday.

“The other thing to consider too is that it’s been about two-ish weeks since we’ve had pretty significant policy implemented in many parts of Ontario and it takes at least two full weeks for those changes to result in any meaningful plateau of cases.”

Bogoch says he wouldn’t be surprised if the provincial government decided to tighten restrictions in response to the surge of cases amid the second wave of the virus.

“I think at the end of the day the week ahead is going to be very very telling. Are we going to see a rise in cases or is this going to plateau and eventually come down a little bit, and in all fairness it’s very hard to know.”

'We should be very worried'

Speaking to CP24 on Sunday afternoon, epidemiologist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said certain factors are contributing to higher COVID-19 cases during the second wave of the pandemic.

"I think we should be very worried," Sharkawy said. "In the first wave, we essentially went into a lockdown mode -- schools were not open, the economy was to a certain extent shut down, and people weren't going to work in person. Those things have changed now."

The doctor said those under the age of 40 have been disproportionately affected by the virus in the second wave.

"I think that's driving the pandemic second wave right now," Sharkawy said. "Now that's spilling over into those parts of our community that are at higher risk long-term care homes, people that are elderly. We're now seeing them admitted to hospital."

He noted that increasing testing capacity and more contact tracing will help health officials understand how much virus is within the community.

Sharkawy said it's critical to know the full extent of the disease in order for Ontario to get through the second wave.

"We've got to have a better understanding of not only how many cases there are, but where they are in our community," he said.

"In addition to increasing testing capacity and different rapid tests that might be employed throughout the community, we need more contact tracing to attack those areas on the ground that are dealing with this virus disproportionately."