December 14, 2020, Premier Doug Ford issued a statement after the first COVID-19 vaccine in Canada was administered in Ontario to a long-term care personal support worker. As a result of the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario, the province has now officially entered the first phase of its three-phase COVID-19 vaccine implementation plan.
In his statement, Premier Ford reiterated that the COVID-19 immunization program would be “the biggest immunization program in a century,” and encouraged Ontarians to remain patient and continue adhering to public health measures. He added that General Rick Hillier led COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force is working with Health Canada and other provincial and territorial partners to ensure that vaccines are distributed as quickly as possible.
This afternoon, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, and Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, provided an update on COVID-19 trends in the province. Following their update, Dr. Williams and Dr. Yaffe responded to questions from the media.
Earlier today, Ontario announced updated testing guidelines for outbound international travellers. Effective December 11, 2020, individuals requesting a COVID-19 test for international travel clearance are no longer eligible for a publicly funded test in Ontario. The intent of this update is to preserve capacity within the provincially funded COVID-19 testing network.
Update on COVID-19 Trends
This afternoon, Dr. Williams and Dr. Yaffe provided an update on the status of COVID-19 trends in Ontario.
Key COVID-19 indicators, including the seven-day average of new cases, the number of patients in the hospital, and the number of patients in ICU all continue to rise:
- The seven-day average of new cases is now 1,841. This is up from 1,820 one week ago and 1,570 two weeks ago.
- 857 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. This is up from 725 one week ago and 618 two weeks ago.
- There are currently 244 COVID-19 patients in ICU. This is up from 213 one week ago and 168 two weeks ago. Some hospitals in COVID-19 hotspots have reached the point where cancelling elective surgeries is necessary.
The province has also consistently been processing a high number of tests, with a record high of over 65,000 tests on December 12. Given the high number of tests and current COVID-19 trends, Dr. Williams expects the province to cross the threshold of recording over 2,000 new cases per day this week.
Dr. Williams also reiterated his concern that the holiday season may lead to a further spike in Ontario’s COVID-19 cases, particularly as a result of the “casual” attitude many Ontarians have adopted towards risky behaviours and social contacts.
Questions from Media
Regions in Lockdown
In response to questions about criteria for moving public health regions to lockdown, Dr. Williams said that all regions currently at the Red – Control level are being monitored for whether they should be moved to lockdown. He added that he is in discussion with local medical officers of health for these regions, regarding whether further actions are required to keep cases under control.
Dr. Williams was also asked about the efficacy of the province’s strategy, given that the total number of cases has not fallen, despite Toronto and Peel having now spent three weeks in lockdown. In response, Dr. Williams noted that local medical officers of health in Toronto and Peel believe the lockdown has had an effect in causing cases to plateau. He noted that without a lockdown, Toronto and Peel were at risk of reporting case numbers in the 900 to 1,000 per day range, which is significantly higher than current numbers.
Dr. Williams was asked whether he anticipated that compliance with public health measures would drop as a result of the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario. Dr. Williams noted that while many Ontarians are demonstrating COVID fatigue, he hoped that the arrival of the vaccine would provide residents with “renewed energy to focus” on slowing the spread of COVID-19 “until May or June” when the province beings to roll out widespread immunization.
Dr. Yaffe added that community transmission of COVID-19 will remain an issue until Ontario’s general population has reached herd immunity (when 70 to 80% of the general population has been immunized). She noted that Ontario would likely reach this point in summer 2021.