TORONTO — COVID-19 cases in Ontario must fall below 1,000 per day before lockdown measures can be lifted, the province's top doctor said Monday as he expressed cautious optimism that infection rates may have plateaued.
Dr. David Williams said while the province's virus rates remain high - with 2,578 new cases reported Monday - he thinks the impact of a provincewide lockdown that started on Boxing Day is beginning to emerge.
Williams said Ontario's seven-day case average has dropped to just over 3,000 cases he said, down from the mid-3,000s in recent weeks.
He said he would like to see the province's new daily case counts move to levels last seen in late October before any pandemic measures are relaxed.
"It is achievable, we can get back there," Williams said. "I take that as a sign that Ontarians ... are making headway."
Williams said he would also like to see the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital intensive care units drop to 150 - from 395 reported Monday - before ending the lockdown.
"If you get below 150 COVID patients in ICU beds that starts to get you back down to where all the hospitals can start to do their other elective procedures," he said.
Williams said while people must continue to stay-at-home and follow public health rules, the latest numbers show that Ontario's per cent positivity has not risen in recent days.
His comments come less than a week after the province was plunged into its second state of emergency during the pandemic and Premier Doug Ford's government imposed a stay-at-home order.
Meanwhile, Ford said Monday a new hospital set to open in Vaughan, Ont., will be used to relieve a capacity crunch because of rising COVID-19 rates.
Ford said some patients from overcrowded Greater Toronto Area hospitals will be transferred to Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital when it opens on Feb. 7.
The hospital will add 35 new critical care beds and 150 medical beds to the province's bed capacity.
"When we're in the fight of our lives, this incredible, state-of-the-art hospital, it's like reinforcements coming over the hill," he said.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said some Toronto hospitals are already transferring patients to Kingston, Ont,. and Niagara Region to help ease crowding.
The province also said it will spend $125 million to create 500 additional beds to deal with the latest virus surge that could overwhelm hospitals.
"We're looking everywhere we can within the entire system, particularly in the hot spot regions, to create those beds," she said.
A spokeswoman for Ontario's long-term care minister said Monday that the Canadian Red Cross has been deployed to a nursing home in Barrie, Ont., that is struggling with a major COVID-19 outbreak.
Krystle Caputo said 57 residents, 43 staff, and two essential visitors have tested positive for COVID-19 at Roberta Place. Nine residents have died of the virus at the nursing home.
Several nearby hospitals and the local public health unit are also helping to manage the home during the outbreak.
"We remain committed to doing everything we can, along with our partners, to help stabilize the home and have it return to normal operations,” Caputo said in a statement.
A clinic dedicated to administering COVID-19 vaccines opened in a Toronto convention centre on Monday. City officials said the "proof-of-concept" clinic will help Ontario's Ministry of Health test and adjust the setup of immunization clinics in non-hospital settings.
The clinic at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, which is in the downtown core, aims to vaccinate 250 people per day, but the city noted that is entirely dependent upon vaccine supply.
Pfizer-BioNTech, which manufactures one of the two Health Canada-approved vaccines, announced last week that it was temporarily delaying international shipments of the shots while it upgraded production facilities in Europe.
The Ontario government has said that will affect the province's vaccine distribution plan, and some people will see their booster shots delayed by several weeks.
-with files from Denise Paglinawan.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press