KITCHENER -- Two more people in Waterloo Region died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours as health officials logged another 63 new infections on Thursday.

Hospitalizations also spiked by nine in the past day, with 61 people in the region now hospitalized with the disease. Of those, 24 are receiving treatment in intensive care units.

The 63 new cases brings Waterloo Region's cumulative caseload to 17,269 since the pandemic began, with 16,488 infections considered resolved and 504 active.

Lee Fairclough, the hospital lead for Waterloo-Wellington and the president of St. Mary's General Hospital, said Waterloo Region now accounts for 23 per cent of the province's COVID-19 hospitalizations, despite being only four per cent of the population.

She said patients are coming in more critically ill, and some patients are now being transferred to London.

Fairclough said the current COVID-19 situation in area hospitals will cause further delays to elective surgeries.

“This is the right decision for our health system in Waterloo Region,” Fairclough said in a release. “Hospitals are starting to send patients outside of our region due to a lack of capacity locally and this is a precarious position. We want to protect our health system, resume much needed care that has been delayed and protect the health of our residents. Delaying a move to Step 2 allows us the best opportunity to do that.”

One more active outbreak was confirmed Thursday. There are now 17 active outbreaks across Waterloo Region, with the majority workplace or facility outbreaks.

STEP 2 DELAYED IN WATERLOO REGION

The new cases come as the Region of Waterloo confirms it will not move into Step 2 of the province's reopening framework along with the rest of Ontario next week.

In a news release, local officials said they made the decision based on "current data and the prevalence of the Delta variant locally."

“We are in a race against time and a race against the Delta variant,” Regional Chair Karen Redman said in a release. “The Province has provided additional vaccines and we need the coming weeks to not just get first and second doses into the arms’ of residents, but to use this time to build immunity. These coming weeks are critical in the fight against COVID-19.”

“While Waterloo Region remains under Step 1, all Waterloo Region residents are advised to limit all non-essential travel to communities outside of Waterloo Region,” Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, Medical Officer of Health, said in a release. “We also ask residents to limit all close contact to only your household members or one other household, exclusively.”

RECORD-BREAKING VACCINATIONS

Health partners in Waterloo Region administered the highest daily number of vaccine doses Wednesday, with 9,525 jabs put into arms.

That brings the total number of vaccine doses administered to 492,278.

More than 75.5 per cent of adults have now received at least one dose, while 23.44 per cent of residents 18 and older are fully vaccinated.

VARIANTS OF CONCERN

The Delta variant continues to drive new cases in Waterloo Region. Another four infections were confirmed as variant of concern cases Thursday, bringing the total number of variant cases to 3,578.

Waterloo Region's variant breakdown is as follows:

  • 3,072 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
  • 61 are the Gamma variant, initially discovered in Brazil and labelled as P.1
  • 122 are the Delta variant, first found in India and previous called B.1.617
  • 312 cases have had a mutation detected, but have not yet had a variant strain confirmed

PROVINCE-WIDE SNAPSHOT

Ontario reported 296 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, marking the fourth day in a row with case counts below 300.

The seven-day rolling average of daily COVID-19 cases now stands at about 305, a significant decrease from the week before when the average was 410.

The total number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ontario now stands at 543,315, including deaths and recoveries.

Ontario also announced Thursday that the province will move into Step 2 of its reopening plan on Wednesday, two days ahead of schedule.

Waterloo Region will not be moving to Step 2 due to its high COVID-19 caseload.

With files from CTV Toronto and CTV Kitchener's Katherine Hill and Nicole Lampa.