Ontario is reporting 313 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday — the highest daily case count since early June.
Cases have been on an upswing since mid-August, with numbers above 200 since Sept. 12.
On Sunday, the province confirmed 204 cases. Monday’s number represents a more than 50 per cent increase.
Health Minister Christine Elliott called today’s spike a “disturbing and significant increase.”
“Whether this is the start of the second wave or not, it certainly has our attention and we are dealing with it,” Elliott said during the province’s daily COVID-19 briefing on Monday.
Elliott says the second wave will be “more complicated and difficult to deal with than the first wave because we also have flu season approaching in addition to COVID-19.”
She added that there will also be reduced capacity in hospitals due to the number of seniors who were moved out of long-term care homes and into hospitals.
In addition, hospital resources will be tied up with the backlog of surgeries that were postponed due to the pandemic, she said.
The minister also said the government has a fall preparedness plan that will be announced in the coming days.
Social gatherings a common place for COVID-19 spread, officials say
Premier Doug Ford said that the severity of a second wave is up to Ontarians, adding that every option is on the table, including further shutdowns.
Although Ford has acknowledged most Ontarians are following public health restrictions, he said a small number of people are getting too relaxed and “it’s coming back to bite us,” adding that social gatherings are a common place for the virus to spread.
“It’s not the bars per se or the restaurants, it’s social gatherings,” Ford said.
“I’m begging you please, just cut out of the social gatherings, it’s just not worth it because this COVID-19 is ramping up again.”
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate medical officer of health, said there’s been a lack of understand on social gatherings.
Even though the province’s limit for gatherings in an indoor setting is 50 people, “that doesn’t mean you can walk around and get close to them and not wear a mask,” Yaffe said in a media conference Monday.
“That means you can be in a room with that many people but if they’re not in your social circle, you have to wear a mask if you’re going to get close to them.”
Ford said his government has been preparing for a second wave throughout the summer months and the province now is in better shape when it comes to testing, personal protective equipment and expanding capacity in the health-care system.
According to Elliott, 67 per cent of the new cases are among people under age 40.
Ontario is also reporting one new death on Monday, and the official pandemic death toll is 2,816. By contacting local public health units for the most up-to-date information, CBC News has counted a total of 2,855 deaths.
Of Ontario’s 44,817 COVID-19 cases, 39,974 are considered resolved.
Could high infection rates spread from urban to rural?
The bulk of the cases come from three hard-hit areas — Toronto, Peel and Ottawa — but the head of the Ontario Hospital Association is warning accelerating infection rates could spread to the rest of Ontario if people don’t respect public health guidelines.
OHA president Anthony Dale says residents must practise physical distancing, wear masks when required, and neither host nor attend unsafe gatherings and parties.
He says some people have been lulled into a false sense of security by case numbers that had been decreasing last month — reaching their lowest point in early August, with just 33 cases reported in a single day.
Dale also said that increasing COVID-19 case rates could lead to another provincial lockdown.
Last Monday, the province announced a four-week pause on any further relaxing of pandemic restrictions.
Cases identified in several schools
The overall increase in cases comes as several cases have popped up in Ontario schools.
In Durham Region, one person tested positive after spending time inside Maple Ridge Public School.
“The individual is asymptomatic, wore a mask while in the building and physically distanced from others while at school,” wrote Maple Ridge principal Jonathan Ross in a letter to parents.
Peel District School Board has also seen a case, at Louise Arbour Secondary School.
The Halton District School Board posted on Sunday that someone at Brant Hills Public School has the virus. On Monday, the board confirmed that the infected person is a student.
A case has also come to light at an elementary school in Haldimand County.
Worry had already been mounting about Ontario’s increasing case numbers, with a senior provincial official telling CBC News that there is “a growing sense of concern” in the government and among public health leaders.
The Ontario legislature sits Monday for the first time since June 21, giving opposition parties the chance to question Premier Doug Ford’s approach to the pandemic.