Ontario reported 345 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday as the province managed a second straight day of more than 210,000 vaccinations, surpassing a key threshold for moving into Phase 2 of the government's reopening plan.
The 210,638 shots administered yesterday were the most-ever on a single day, topping the previous day's total by just 27 doses.
The progress means that more than 20 per cent of Ontarians aged 18 and older have had two shots — one of the primary criteria laid out by the province for advancing into the next phase of reopening.
Also this morning, the Ministry of Health said those who got a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine can still opt for a second, despite updated recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization that provinces stop doing so in most cases.
Ontarians who received AstraZeneca for their initial shot can currently opt, with informed consent, for a second of the same vaccine, which is being administered through some pharmacies and family doctors. Or, instead, they can get a mRNA vaccine (Pfizer of Moderna).
The province stopped administering first doses of AstraZeneca in May due to the risks of rare but potentially very serious blood clots.
Ontario will still offer AstraZeneca for 2nd doses
In a statement, a ministry spokesperson said the province will continue to offer AstraZenenca as a second shot for those who want one.
"All COVID-19 vaccines available in the province, including AstraZeneca, have been determined to be safe and effective by Health Canada, and have been shown to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death associated with COVID-19," Alexandra Hilkene said.
"If you had AstraZeneca for your first dose, you can safely take either AstraZeneca, Moderna or Pfizer for your second dose for strong protection," she added.
The statement went on to encourage residents to get a second dose as soon as one is available, and added that individuals who got one or two shots of AstraZeneca "did the right thing to prevent illness, and to protect their families, loved ones and communities."
According to the ministry, there are about 160,000 doses of AstraZeneca available in Ontario.
Unclear if Ontario will move up Step 2 of reopening plan
Meanwhile, Step 2 of the province's reopening plan is currently scheduled for July 2.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Premier Doug Ford suggested he would consult with his scientific advisors and cabinet about the possibility of moving forward sooner, though Ontario's chief medical officer of health struck a more cautious tone at an afternoon news conference.
Dr. David Williams said that the delta variant of concern poses a considerable risk, especially to those who have not had a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and urged residents to have patience and to continue following public health guidelines.
The most recent analysis from Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table found that delta, which is thought to be more transmissible than previous variants and could increase the risk of serious illness, accounts for about 40 per cent of all new cases of COVID-19.
Some of that figure is attributable to a sharp fall in the share of cases linked to the alpha variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, that fuelled the worst of the third wave of the pandemic in Ontario.
That said, the reproduction number (R) — a measure of how many people on average a single case will go on to infect — is well above 1, meaning the delta variant is believed to be spreading at an exponential rate. By comparison, the R value for the alpha variant stands at about .71.
The province revealed yesterday that it is expanding the number of delta-variant hot spots from seven to 10, with the Durham, Hamilton and Simcoe Muskoka public health units added to the list. That news was accompanied by an announcement that all adults in Ontario who got a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will be eligible for a second as of June 28.
Average of daily deaths continues decline
While the spread of the delta variant is a significant concern, particularly in some health units like Waterloo and Porcupine, most indicators of the state of the pandemic remain relatively positive.
Today's new cases are considerably lower than last Friday, when Ontario saw 574.
Labs completed 26,643 tests and Public Health Ontario logged a positivity rate of 1.4 per cent, down from last Friday's two per cent with nearly 29,000 tests.
Ontario: New daily cases of COVID-19
The seven-day average of daily cases fell to 411, its lowest point since Sept. 26, 2020.
Moreover, the Ministry of Health recorded the death of one more person with the illness, the least on a single day since Oct. 14, 2020.
The seven-day average of daily deaths stands at roughly 8.5.