TORONTO -- Premier Doug Ford is warning Ontarians to be "very cautious” and "not let our guard down for a second" after the province's science advisers declared a third wave of COVID-19.

Ford made the comments on Tuesday afternoon while making an announcement at Humber College in Toronto about an inaugural nursing degree.

On Tuesday morning, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, which provides independent advice and analysis to the Progressive Conservative government, said parts of the province are now experiencing “exponential growth” in the number of new COVID-19 infections and that the province has entered a third wave. 

The group also said new data shows variants of concern are now driving pandemic growth, accounting for 733 of the 1,489 total cases reported on March 15.

When asked about a third wave of infections in Ontario, Ford said he had been informed about the news from the science table and that he “always respects” what they say.

Ford added that he will meet with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams to discuss the surge in cases but his message to Ontarians right now is to remain "very cautious."

"Yes, we are seeing the vaccinations rollout,” Ford said. “But we can't let our guard down for a second. We have to make sure we social distance, constantly be wearing a mask, and follow the protocols of the chief medical officer."

"We can't let our guard down. I'd be very, very cautious moving forward."

On Monday, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) first declared that the province has entered a third wave of COVID-19. 

The OHA said that variants of concern are steeply rising and the number of patients in intensive care is trending upwards.

"We're now in wave three," the OHA said, adding that "strong adherence to public health measures is urgently needed to prevent overwhelming hospitals."

Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said Monday that the province is "into that base of a third wave" and that modellers are assessing the situation.

"What does that mean? How big it is? That's to be determined," Williams said.

Williams added that Ontario is in a "race against time" with COVID-19 vaccine rates and variant of concern infections both increasing at the same time.

With files from The Canadian Press