Health Minister Christine Elliott has confirmed that Ontario will provide support to Alberta as the province deals with an influx of COVID-19 patients in its intensive care units.

The province has been experiencing an exponential growth in cases for weeks now, and on Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney declared a provincewide state of emergency as he warned that Alberta could run out of staffed intensive care beds within 10 days.

Speaking with reporters during a news conference on Friday, Elliott said that Ontario is committed to helping Alberta even as the province deals with its own fourth wave of the pandemic.

She said that it is too early to say precisely what form that help will take but hinted that “intensive care will be at the top of the list.”

“This is a truly cross Canadian effort. There was a time when Ontario needed some help as well and other provinces helped us,” she said. “We will certainly do the same to help Alberta and our officials are having conversations right now about exactly what they needed and we will be there to support them.”

During the third wave of the pandemic in the spring, a team of healthcare workers from Newfound and Labrador travelled to Ontario to help out at some of the province’s most overburdened hospitals for weeks on end.

Members of the Canadian Forces were also deployed in the GTA, predominantly to help with the operation of a field hospital set up outside Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

News that Ontario will provide support to Alberta comes after officials in British Columbia confirmed that they would be unable to assist due to the challenges in their own province as a result of the fourth wave.

The situation in Ontario, however, does appear to be more under control than in many of the western provinces, at least for now.

On Friday morning, the Ministry of Health reported 795 new cases of COVID-19 today as its seven-day rolling average declined for the second week in a row.

That is down from the 848 new cases identified at this time last week.

The rolling seven-day average now stands at 724 and appears to be slowly declining after months of exponential growth. It stood at 728.5 last Friday and 731.7 two weeks ago.

It remains largely unclear what effect the reopening of schools could have on transmission in the weeks to come.

On Friday, Ontario’s publicly funded school boards reported another 121 school-related cases. That accounts for about 15 per cent of Ontario’s overall caseload, up from 12 per cent on Thursday.

Hospitalizations also continue to slowly increase after plummeting over the summer.

According to the latest Critical Care Services Ontario report, there are 192 adults with COVID-19 in intensive care units after an additional 13 admissions over the last 24 hours. There are also two pediatric cases being treated in intensive care, including one in Toronto.

However, there were still hundreds of available beds in ICU units on Thursday night, suggesting that there could be capacity in the system to accept patients from Alberta should officials decide to go that route.

“I think we currently have capacity,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CP24 on Friday morning. “We really have to help our brothers and our sisters out across the county. Remember not too long ago we were in a very similar situation where we exceeded our capacity and asked for help from outside provinces and received that help. If we can provide healthcare providers or take patients, I think we should be jumping in with both feet. This is just what we do as Canadians.”

Testing volumes remain high following reopening of schools

The latest cases reported on Friday came on nearly 34,000 individual tests, as the province continues to deal with higher volumes that have coincided with the reopening of schools.

The overall positivity rate was 2.4 per cent.

That is down from last week when positivity rates above three per cent were regularly being reported, albeit on a lower volume of tests.

Of the latest cases, 166 were in Toronto, 77 were in Peel Region, 71 were in York Region, 60 were in Durham Region, 33 were in Hamilton and 10 were in Halton Region.

For Durham Region, it is the highest number of new cases reported in any single 24-hour period since early June.

The Ontario Science Table estimates that more than 99 per cent of all new cases being discovered in the province involve the more transmissible Delta variant.