Toronto’s top public health official is warning residents “to keep their guard up” and avoid close contact with people outside of their households for “the foreseeable future” amid a record number of new COVID-19 cases in the city.

Toronto Public Health reported 643 new instances of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus on Monday afternoon and another two deaths.

It is a big increase on the seven-day rolling average of 436 daily cases and represents a new record for any single 24-hour period. Hospitalizations also continue to increase with 249 COVID patients now being treated in Toronto hospitals, including 48 people who are in intensive care units.

It should be noted that the province reported 622 cases in Toronto earlier on Monday but the Ministry of Health number is based on a different cut off time than the one used by the city.

“Please keep your guard up. I hope it does not take a high number like the one we have today to make that point resonate,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said during a briefing at city hall. “I would far rather that people reflect briefly on today as one sobering number but draw from it a renewed commitment to keeping our collective guard up by making smart choices about where we go, who we see and what we do.”

De Villa said that the high number of new cases reported by Toronto Pubic Health on Monday is likely the result of positive tests from people who contracted the virus one or two weeks ago, meaning that the spike largely predates enhanced public health restrictions that went into place when Toronto was placed under a lockdown on Nov. 23.

For that reason de Villa said that she remains hopeful that measures, like the closures of restaurants, bars and gyms, will have an impact on eventually bringing the numbers down.

But she said that Torontonians need to do their part too.

“What the numbers tell us is more important than what the numbers add up to,” she said. “By renewing our commitment to doing all we can to limit the spread of the virus we can prevent infections. Distance works, masks work, handwashing works, staying apart works. We are at the lowest risk in our homes with the people we live with every day and for the foreseeable future those are the people we should see the most for our protection and for everybody else’s.”

City working to install pickup zones outside businesses on ‘urgent basis’

The positivity rate in Toronto over the last seven-day is six percent. That said many neighbourhoods, particularly those in the northwest corner of the city, now have double-digit positivity rates.

Speaking with reporters during Monday’s briefing, Mayor John Tory said that “it takes time for the numbers to get back on track” after they “get headed in the wrong direction” and that people need to “heed the public health advice,” now more than ever.

He said that after announcing the resumption of the CurbTO program last week to help enable retailers with curbside pickup, the city has already received “dozens of applications” and is working with businesses and Business Improvement Areas to expedite the installation of new pickup zones “on an urgent basis.”

“This is one of the ways that the city government is working to help businesses get through these tough times,” he said.