TORONTO -- Provincial health officials are now investigating an alarming new trend of people with COVID-19 who are rapidly deteriorating and dying before seeking medical care, Ontario's chief coroner and coordinator of the province’s outbreak response team said Thursday.

“We have been seeing a number of people dying in the community outside of the hospital, which is new, unfortunate, and sad,” Dr. Dirk Huyer told reporters during a news conference at Queen’s Park on Thursday afternoon.

“These people have not been able to obtain health care because the disease affected them so quickly and so seriously, leading to deaths in the community, which we did not see in the Office of the Chief Coroner in the first wave.”

Huyer noted that officials are now trying to investigate further to determine all of the circumstances surrounding these deaths.

“We are still trying to understand and evaluate. What I can tell you is the numbers have been certainly elevated, in the range of approximately two per day over the past two weeks and that is in excess of anything that we saw during Wave 1 and over Wave 2,” he said.

He added that in all of these instances, the people were symptomatic and had either tested positive or were a close contact of a positive case.

“Symptoms have been present, not to the extent that were recognized as necessarily requiring hospitalization, and then they were found deceased later in the day or in the morning,” Huyer said.

“These are not people that ambulances have been called because they had been deteriorating... it is not that people were ignoring symptoms from what I’ve read. I need to drill down a little bit deeper, but these were people who did have stable conditions and then deteriorated very quickly.”

Huyer said the people who died ranged in age from in their 30s to in their 70s.

“Certainly it is notable in the fact that this is a younger population. This is population in the community. This is a population who are suffering serious consequences in the form of death in a quicker period of time than we saw in the past,” he said.

“I think it amplifies and recognizes the importance of what we need to do to ensure that we reduce the potential for people having infections.”

The number of virus-related deaths in Ontario has been steadily rising over the past month, with 40 more deaths confirmed by the Ministry of Health on Thursday, the highest daily death toll reported since Feb. 19.

Ontario is now seeing an average of 27 virus-related deaths each day, up from 22 last Thursday, and 15 two weeks ago.

Deaths are rising as the situation worsens in Ontario hospitals, many of which are struggling to find space for the surge of patients in need of critical care. A record 806 COVID-19 patients are now in intensive care units (ICU) across the province.

On Wednesday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams issued a new directive to all hospitals in the province, requiring them to immediately halt all non-emergent surgeries and non-urgent procedures, a step many facilities had already taken amid a rise in hospital admissions. Many GTA intensive care units are so overwhelmed that they have been forced to transfer patients to other cities with available ICU beds.

Huyer said “strict,” “careful,” and “thoughtful” adherence to public health measures and reducing mobility is key to preventing further hospitalizations and deaths.

“I continue to reflect on the significant number of people in the intensive care unit, the incredibly hard and challenging work of those people to try to get better, their families to support them, despite the fact that sometimes the people who are sick have been transferred hundreds of kilometres to another setting so that they can receive intensive care unit care and the tragedies that still occur despite that care,” Huyer said.