TORONTO -- Most public health units in Ontario are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases and ICU occupancy could hit 200 early in the New Year, according to new modelling data released by Ontario’s science table today.

All but eight of Ontario’s 34 public health units saw a surge in cases from Oct. 26 to Nov. 8, with Sudbury seeing the biggest growth in infections.

However, the science table said the immediate future of case counts is unclear due to the recent surge of infections.

“I think it's really important to acknowledge the uncertainty right now. We're at a critical juncture. And if you want a proof of concept of that, just go to Western Europe and see what's happening there,” scientific director Dr. Peter Jüni told CP24 on Friday.

The increase of virus spread across the province is attributed to colder weather and people spending more time indoors, the lifting of some capacity limits last month, and more indoor gatherings.

As a result, the science table recommends a "deliberate pause on reopening" for the time being, wearing masks properly indoors and getting fully vaccinated.

Jüni said right now the province needs to adhere to current public health restrictions to ensure infections don’t skyrocket.

“It's about fine tuning capacity limits, etc. Making sure that vaccine certificates are carefully implemented, that people are wearing their masks. We're at that level, which is good news,” he said.

“Toronto right now has still relatively stable case counts. We're holding the line here, and I would like to see it this way also in the future,” he added.

Testing rates have remained relatively flat throughout the past couple of weeks but the positivity rate has steadily increased across the province.

“Testing is flat, but positivity is rising in several Public Health Units. This indicates a real rise in cases,” the science table wrote in a presentation released on Friday.

The province’s current positivity rate stands at 2.5 per cent, up from 1.8 per cent a week ago.

As of Nov. 8, the effective reproduction number, which corresponds to the average number of additional infections caused by one infection, was at 1.25, well up from a month ago when it was one.

Although cases are rising across most regions in the province, hospital and intensive care occupancy remain stable for now. However ICU rates are likely to increase in the coming months.

In a “more likely” scenario, the science table predicts that ICU occupancy will hit 200 beds in January, and in a “possible” scenario it could hit 250.

The science table notes that all scenarios assume that all health restrictions remain in place.

As of Friday, 207 people with the virus were in Ontario hospitals and 130 were in ICUs.

Jüni said if ICU occupancy increases a bit the health-care system shouldn’t be overwhelmed like it was in the past two waves of the pandemic.

“So even if we see case numbers increase a bit, we will not see the same increase as before in ICU beds occupied. So 200 to 250 is still okay. We just need to make sure that our case numbers don't explode as it was the case in Europe,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the province will continue to monitor trends to determine the best steps forward.

“There’s no question that the months ahead will require continued vigilance, and the modelling rightly points out that some jurisdictions are struggling as they continue to face the fourth wave of COVID-19. That’s why Ontario continues to take a different approach by maintaining strong public health measures such as indoor masking and proof of vaccination requirements to access higher-risk settings,” Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.

In last month’s modelling, the science table projected that lifting more measures prematurely could drive a new wave despite strong vaccine coverage.

The table predicted that case counts would hover around 500 per day through November as contact between individuals increased.

Today the province reported 598 new COVID-19 cases, down from 642 cases on Thursday but up from 563 a week ago.

The recent rise in case counts has caused the seven-day rolling average to hit 537 today, a notable increase from 404 a week ago.

To date, 88 per cent of eligible Ontarians have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 85 per cent have received two doses and are considered fully vaccinated.

Children under 12 years old are not yet eligible for a vaccine.

The science table noted that unvaccinated individuals have a six-fold higher risk of symptomatic COVID-19 disease, eleven-fold higher risk of being in the hospital and 26-fold higher risk of being in the ICU compared to fully vaccinated individuals.

“Vaccination remains the most effective protection against COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and long COVID-19, but there are critical gaps in coverage across communities,” the science table wrote.

The latest modelling comes after the Doug Ford government announced earlier this week that it would pause the lifting of more public health restrictions in some high-risk settings.

The government was supposed to lift capacity limits on Monday at food and drink establishments with dance facilities, such as wedding venues, strip clubs and bathhouses, provided that the venues require proof of vaccination.

However, the government said the restrictions would remain in place for the time being “out of an abundance of caution.”

Last month, the government unveiled its plan to lift all remaining public health restrictions by March, including mandatory masks and the vaccine certificate system. The government said the removal of restrictions would only occur pending positive health indicators around the spread of the virus.