Ontario is reporting a record number of new cases of COVID-19 for the third consecutive day along with the highest number of deaths in any 24-hour period so far in the second wave of the pandemic.

The Ministry of Health says that there were 3,328 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus confirmed on Wednesday along with 56 more deaths.

That is up from the then record 2,923 infections confirmed on Tuesday and then record 2,553 infections confirmed on Monday.

It also points to an average daily growth rate of about 17 per cent so far this week. Modelling that was released on Dec. 21 warned that Ontario could reach 30,000 new cases per day by Jan. 24 if it followed a “worst case scenario” of just seven per cent case growth.

Hospitalizations also continue to surge, leading to increased concerns about the ability of the healthcare system to withstand the strain.

According to a Critical Care Services Ontario report obtained by CP24, there are now 352 COVID patients being treated in intensive care in the province. That also exceeds the worst case scenario in the modelling released on Dec. 21, which warned that we could see ICU admissions hit 350 by today, 500 by Jan. 8 and surpass 1,500 by Jan. 24.

In that particularly dire scenario nearly every available ICU bed in the province would be taken up by COVID-19 patients, forcing hospitals to ration care.

“Things are accelerating faster than I thought they would and it is really concerning. In the hospital, we will continue to work hard to care for patients and be as prepared as possible but we need to move from a fall pandemic preparedness plan to a winter survival plan,” Dr. Michael Warner, the medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, told CP24 on Thursday morning. “We also need the public’s help. Anyone that is making New Year’s Eve plans tonight to be with people outside their household needs to cancel them because we are having a lot of trouble in the hospitals maintaining access to care in the hot zone regions and without the public’s help it is going to get worse.”

There were an additional 45 COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU over the last 24 hours, which is a record for any single day so far in the pandemic.

Right now more than one out of every five patients in the ICU is being treated for COVID but at some hospitals in hard-hit regions the numbers are even more stark.

At Humber Valley Hospital, the number of patients in the ICU now exceeds the baseline number of beds available and nearly half of them (24 out of 49) are being treated for COVID-19.

The same is true at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga where 16 out of the 33 patients in the ICU are now being treated for COVID and at North York General Hospital 21 out of the 23 ICU beds are currently filled, 13 of them with COVID-19 patients.

The numbers are slightly better in Toronto where 74 people are currently in intensive care with COVID-19, including 23 at Toronto General Hospital. But they are rising and on Thursday a spokesperson for the University Health Network told CP24 that they may have to cancel some elective surgeries and procedures as soon as next week.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized overall also continues to rise and now stands at 1,235. That is the highest it has been at any point in the pandemic.

“I think the government needs to explore all options available and I think we need to hear from the government about things other than vaccination. Vaccination is important but we are not going to have widespread vaccination until the late summer or early fall so that is not going to get us out of this,” Warner told CP24. “We have six, seven, eight months to go and things are going to get very difficult in January and February as cases continue to rise and hospitalizations increase.”

Positivity rate dips as testing numbers rise

More than 60 per cent of the new cases confirmed on Thursday are in the GTHA, including 888 in Toronto, 431 in Peel Region, 418 in York Region, 156 in Hamilton, 114 in Durham Region and 79 in Halton Region.

The spread of the virus, however, is also accelerating in other parts of Ontario.

Over the last 24 hours just three out of Ontaro’s 34 public health units reported no new cases at all and five others outside of the GTHA reported more than 100, including Windsor-Essex (257) which now has the highest rate of infections a per capita basis.

If there is any good news to be found in the data it is that the province’s labs completed more than 63,000 individual tests over the last 24 hours following three straight days in which that number dipped below 40,000.

As a result the positivity rate went down to 5.7 per cent. It had went as high as 9.7 per cent earlier this week.

Meanwhile, deaths continue to increase.

The 56 fatalities reported on Thursday is the highest number in any 24-hour period since May 12.

Of the latest deaths, 39 involved residents of long-term care homes.

There are now 206 active outbreaks in long-term care homes and another 109 in retirement homes.

“We might just think of them as numbers but they are not just numbers. They are parents, they are grandparents, they are neighbours, colleagues and it is time for us tor realize that these are the people that have actually built our society and it is time for us to come together and give back,” Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care physician who works in a number of long-term care homes across the GTA, told CP24 on Thursday afternoon. “We have to realize that the virus doesn’t affect all of us equally. We are not all in this together and in fact there are other people who are affected much more than us , particularly our seniors.”