BARRIE, ONT. -- COVID-19 case counts are declining, but Stevenson Memorial Hospital's chief of staff urges Ontarians to stay the course, saying it's too soon to declare victory.

CTV's Craig Momney asks Dr. Barry Nathanson what vulnerabilities remain.

Q - As daily case counts rapidly decline, what is the situation locally in hospitals right now?

A - Well, you're right; case counts are going down. We still have over a thousand patients with COVID in hospitals across the province, and by my numbers still, we just about 650 patients in critical care areas, and of those, over 450 are ventilated.

So the burden of numbers are still very, very high, but I wouldn't want to convey the notion that taking care of an individual patient is a burden whatsoever. But the situation still reflects the enormous burden that we've been working under for the past many weeks. We still have folks working in alternate areas, such as surgeons and nurses from other areas being redeployed.

But of course, there's a variety of experiences at hospitals across the province. The larger sites in each of the zones bear the brunt of this pandemic, and their numbers are still very high. The smaller hospitals have fewer cases and are bearing proportionately less of the burden.

But at the same time, the pandemic continues to take its toll, but the mood is improved as you see the numbers come down, that's for sure.

Q - How long will it take to tackle the non-emergency surgery backlog locally?

A - Locally in Alliston, we've already begun to ramp up, and one would think in a matter of months, we could tackle that backlog, barring anything unforeseen.

Provincially, on a broader scale, it's expected to take years to complete the work through that backlog, and that will be done in a strategic way, putting cases of greater priority first; either because of complexity, because of risk to life and limb, or because of the reduction that's required for pain and symptom management.

So it depends on those priorities, but it's going to take quite some time.

Q - Are we on the right track to be able to see life return to normal by the fall?

A - We're on the right track, yes, but we still have some challenges. We have fewer than five per cent of Ontarians fully vaccinated. We have just about 60 per cent partially vaccinated, which is excellent progress, which is what your question touches on, progress. But we still are very, very vulnerable. Even if you add those three elements, complete vaccinations, partial vaccination, and some measure of natural immunity that might be out in the community because of infection without vaccination, we still have a great deal of vulnerability. But all the indicators appear to be going in the right direction,

So the answer to your question is yes, we're certainly on the right track. When we get there, we'll get there. We have a plan; it's measured; it's sensible; it's data-driven, and it incentivizes the solution, which is vaccination, as I've said.

So the path is right, and the key message to Ontarians is to stay the course. We don't want to declare victory prematurely for any reason whatsoever; there's still vulnerability, we're still seeing admissions.

I just moved a patient from a ward to the intensive care unit just a few moments ago, and I know hospitals in Toronto, Trillium (Health Partners) etc., have seen upwards of 40 admissions of new COVID cases last weekend.

So there are still hot spots, but we are on the right track, but we have to stay the course, and individuals could do more; those numbers could be falling much more quickly if individuals could be more cautious or would be more cautious. And if those places such as workplaces where the spread is still occurring could be better controlled.