KITCHENER -- Active cases in Waterloo Region rose above 500 for the first time in more than a month as officials reported another 67 cases on Thursday.

Thursday's update brings the total number of lab-confirmed cases to 16,854 to date, including 16,052 recoveries and 259 deaths.

There are 530 active cases in the region, the highest number since May 3 when there were 511 active cases.

Sixteen more cases have screened positive for a variant of concern, for a total of 3,484 so far.

The region's variant breakdown is as follows:

  • 3,062 are the Alpha variant, first identified in the United Kingdom and originally known as B.1.1.7
  • 11 are Beta variant, originally detected in South Africa and previously referred as B.1.315
  • 60 are the Gamma variant, initially discovered in Brazil and labelled as P.1
  • 45 are the Delta variant, first found in India and previous called B.1.617
  • 306 cases have had a mutation detected, but have not yet had a variant strain confirmed

Hospitalizations rose by one Thursday, for a total of 46. That includes 16 people in the ICU.

There are nine active outbreaks in the region. Ninety-four cases are linked to an outbreak at a congregate setting. Officials have said they believe the Delta variant is behind that outbreak.

ACCELERATED SECOND DOSES

The province announced Thursday that anyone who received an mRNA vaccine on or before May 30 in Waterloo Region will be eligible for an accelerated second dose starting June 23.

At a Board of Health meeting Wednesday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said Waterloo Region is in jeopardy of not moving into Step 2 of the province's reopening plan.

Speaking at a Thursday press conference about the accelerated vaccine rollout in Ontario, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the province is assisting Waterloo Region in tackling its surging COVID-19 caseload.

"Premier Ford and myself have had multiple conversations with Chair Karen Redman on this issue," Jones said. "The Ministry of Health and the vaccine task force has almost doubled the number of vaccines available to Waterloo Region, because we understand it is in need of additional doses."

Jones said Waterloo Region asked Ontario for help, with the province offering mobile vaccination clinics in high-priority neighbourhoods along with additional health human resources.

"Waterloo did ask for health human resources, which we gladly provided," se said. "We are putting all of our resources and efforts to make sure what the public health units they need, they get."

Health officials have said Waterloo Region's surging COVID-19 cases are being driven by the Delta variant.

"We want to make sure that where the Delta variant is right now does not have the opportunity to spread further throughout Ontario," Jones said.

Despite Waterloo Region having slightly lower vaccination rates compared to provincial averages, Jones said the most important metric right now is first dose rates.

"One of the determinations that we make at the vaccine task force level is to ensure if a public health unit is below the provincial average that we offer and give them additional supplies," she said. "Specifically related to Waterloo, the number that you want to look at is the number of people that have received at least one dose … Even one dose gives you very good protection."

Jones said Ontario will continue to work with the Region of Waterloo to address the concerning COVID-19 trends.

A total of 430,394 vaccine doses have been administered in Waterloo Region so far. The region's vaccination dashboard shows 73.21 per cent of eligible adults have received at least one dose, and 14.51 per cent are now fully vaccinated.

"This is a sprint, we're really trying to get as fast as we possibly can to the point where as many residents as possible have two doses," said Kelly Grindrod, a vaccine expert at the University of Waterloo.

'PRECARIOUS POSITION': CHAIR REDMAN'S RESPONSE

Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman issued a statement Thursday regarding the uptick of Delta variant cases in the area.

"I share the concerns of Waterloo Region residents around the increasing spread and impact of the Delta variant," she said. "Based on data presented at the Board of Health this week, we are in a precarious position."

Redman said the region continues to advocate for more vaccines and mobile teams from the province, adding every dose received is getting out into arms immediately.

"We have expanded capacity to deliver more vaccines, including through pharmacies, primary care, mobile teams, and public vaccination clinics," she continued. "This includes new late evening clinics and the acceleration of second doses in high priority neighbourhoods. We continue to provide contact tracing and isolation support."

Redman is urging residents to get vaccinated, adding more than 83 per cent of Waterloo Region's Delta variant cases are among unvaccinated individuals.

"As individuals, the most important thing we can do is get vaccinated and follow public health guidance," she said.

HOSPITALIZATIONS INCREASING LOCALLY

Officials with hospitals in Waterloo Region said they've seen an increase in admissions over the past week. They said the increase is driven by the Delta variant.

“We continue to see increasing need for hospital care for COVID-positive patients,” said Saint Mary's General Hospital President Lee Fairclough in a news release. “As has been reported, many needing hospitalizations with the Delta variant have not been vaccinated or have a single dose. These trends underscore the importance of getting a vaccine as soon as is feasible.”

Local hospitals admitted 19 COVID-19-positive patients over the weekend, the release said.

“As early as last weekend there were new clinics and increased hours of operation to ensure that people are getting not only first doses, but second ones as well,” said Fairclough. “Unfortunately, it is starting to feel that the race is on between getting vaccines delivered, and in the meantime, containing the spread as much as is possible.”

Here are the admission statistics as of June 17:

WR hospitalizations

Resolved cases are people who require ongoing hospital care related to COVID-19 who are no longer infectious.

PROVINCIAL UPDATE

Provincially, Ontario reported 370 new cases on Thursday. The rolling seven-day average now sits at 443, down from 618 at this point last week.

The provincial positivity rate also dropped to 1.3 per cent.

To date, Ontario has reported 541,180 cases of COVID-19, including 527,797 recoveries and 8,993 deaths.

With files from CTV Toronto