MIDDLESEX CENTRE, ONT. -- The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) is reporting 43 new COVID-19 cases Thursday and two new deaths, pushing the region closer to a move into stronger restrictions.

The new cases mark the second-highest daily case count the region has since the pandemic began in March, just shy of the record 46 cases set on Wednesday. The previous record was set just the day before that, with 38 cases.

The two new deaths, both men in their 80s, are associated with the outbreak at the London Health Sciences Centre’s (LHSC) University Hospital, bringing the total number of deaths there to 11.

The new totals in the region stand at 1,737 cases, 1,414 resolved and 74 deaths, leaving 249 active cases.

The biggest contributor to the daily totals in recent weeks have been cases associated with ongoing outbreaks at University Hospital.

As of Thursday, hospital officials report 62 patients and 46 staff, for a total of 108, have tested positive for COVID-19. That total does not include cases among close contacts.

Of those, the hospital says that there remain 46 patients and 45 staff still positive for COVID-19.

The health unit meanwhile is reporting a total of 124 cases to date at the hospital, evenly divided between patients and staff, with at least two dozens more close contact cases.

Health officials also confirmed Thursday that an investigation into the source of the infection, and the reason behind the spread, is ongoing.

MLHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie says the region’s daily numbers make it likely the region could be moved from yellow-protect to orange-restrict as soon as next week.

That decision is made, based not only on daily numbers, but also on percentage positivity of testing, speed of spread and impact on health care, hospitals and intensive care units.

The daily case count threshold for London to move to orange is 16 cases per day, according to Mackie.

“We are clearly in (orange) from a case count perspective, our percentage positivity as well, is well over 1.3 per cent, which is the cut off for the orange zone. Current numbers actually would suggest from a case count and percent positivity that we could even move into the red zone sometime soon, but we have to see if those current numbers continue for the next few days.”

A decision on the region’s level under Ontario’s COVID-19 response framework is likely to be made known by the province on Friday afternoon.

Mayor Ed Holder says he is definitely concerned about what more restrictions could mean for the city’s businesses.

“I think there’s a real possibility that if London goes into further restrictions the potential economic impact and well-being of our broader business community is definitely challenged…We’ve had some organizations close their doors already.”

Both the city and the health unit have already advised area residents to skip festive gatherings and find alternative ways to see family this holiday season.

Two new school cases were also reported Thursday, one at London Central Secondary School and another at Westminster Secondary School. The Thames Valley District School Board says the schools remain open with buses running as the MLHU identifies and follows up with close contacts.

Here is where the cases stand in the region based on the most recent publicly available data:

  • Elgin-Oxford – seven new, 63 active, 582 total, 512 resolved, seven deaths
  • Haldimand-Norfolk – one new, 40 active, 666 total, 588 resolved, 32 deaths
  • Sarnia-Lambton – four new, 16 active, 417 total, 376 resolved, 25 deaths
  • Grey-Bruce – six new, 35 active, 344 total, 309 resolved, no deaths
  • Huron-Perth – 18 new, 52 active, 362 total, 292 resolved, 18 deaths

Ontario reported 1,824 new cases Thursday, an increase over the past few days, but provincial health officials say the number may be slightly skewed due to a data processing error.