Ontario recorded 9,571 new COVID-19 cases and six net new deaths, breaking all previous infection records, as numerous authorities admitted the province’s testing system can no longer keep up with and track the spread of illness on Friday.
The rolling seven-day average of new cases is now 4,923, up from 4,001 yesterday and 1,914 a week ago.
On Thursday, the province reported a then-record 5,790 new cases.
The Ministry of Health said that 1,536 of Friday’s cases involved unvaccinated people, 356 involved partially vaccinated people, 7,425 involved fully vaccinated people and 254 involved people with unknown vaccination status.
The significant spread of infection among fully vaccinated people is attributed to waning immunity and the vaccine escape qualities of the new and dominant Omicron variant.
Provincial labs processed more than 72,000 test specimens in the previous period, generating a positivity rate of 18.7 per cent.
A further 67,571 specimens were awaiting processing on Friday.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said it’s clear to him the reported case count is likely a significant undercount.
“We’re seeing a huge number of reported cases and we know that those huge numbers of reported cases are clearly an undercount and do not reflect the true burden of infection in the community,” he told CP24.
Across Ontario, public health units including those in Ottawa and London have issued warnings that timely access to PCR testing is no longer available.
In Toronto on Friday, major hospital assessment centres at Michael Garron Hospital and Women’s College Hospital had no testing appointments available, while Sunnybook Hospital was booking tests no sooner than Jan. 4.
Friday’s positivity rate was a record for the entire length of the pandemic, even the during first wave in March-April 2020 when access to testing was so limited even some people with symptoms were turned away.
For its part, Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office issued a statement saying the rise in cases was expected.
“It was expected that case numbers would increase in the winter months. We expect they will continue to increase over the coming days and weeks, as other jurisdictions are seeing similar case rate increases per capita.”
Her office asked Ontario residents to get as many vaccine doses as they are eligible for and celebrate the holidays responsibly.
“The coming days and weeks will require ongoing vigilance. This holiday season, please celebrate safely, get vaccinated and follow the public health measures that we know work and have protected us over the last 20 months.”
Even though the system is not detecting all cases, Bogoch said it is some comfort that the tremendous spike in spread has not yet translated into major increases in hospitalization, but with enough infection, he said that could change.
“Even if a very small percentage of those infected do end up in hospital, that still ends up being a lot of people in hospital.”
The Ministry of Health said there were 508 people in hospital due to COVID-19 on Friday, up from 440 on Thursday and 382 one week ago.
Of those, 164 were in intensive care and 102 were breathing with the help of a ventilator.
There are now more than 40,000 known active cases of COVID-19 in the province, with 10,146 confirmed deaths and 626,798 recoveries since March 2020.
Across the GTHA, Toronto reported 2,456 new cases, up from 851 one week ago, while Peel Region reported 1,113 new cases.
York Region reported 604 new cases, Durham reported 349 new cases, Halton reported 745 new cases and Hamilton reported 487 new cases.
The Ministry of Health said that 229,743 vaccine doses were administered on Thursday, including 11,619 first doses, 4,000 second doses and 214,000 third doses.
Across all age groups, 82 per cent of residents have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 77 per cent have two doses and 19 per cent have three doses.