Ontario Premier Doug Ford is defending the province’s decision not to set hard dates on reopening as some other provinces embark on a plan to restore services, saying doing so too soon would be “a disaster” and could result in a surge of COVID-19 cases.
“I’m not willing to roll the dice,” Ford said. “We’re in a different situation than Saskatchewan and Manitoba and obviously Quebec too.”
“We’ve come so far in this fight … and we’ll get there hopefully sooner than later,” said Ford.
Ford made the comments during his daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, while announcing that Ontario is expanding its list of frontline workers eligible for childcare amid the pandemic to include those working in meat-packing companies, as well as retail and grocery clerks.
Those working in retirement homes, pharmacies and truckers will also be eligible, along with members of the Canadian Armed Forces and those who work with the deaf and blind.
The province will also be expanding testing at child-care centres. The decision comes after four staff members tested positive for COVID-19 at a licensed Toronto child-care centre for children of essential workers a day earlier.
But while Ontario expands its plans to support essential workers for the near future, the province is “getting closer” to opening up, Ford said, noting a downward trend in new cases Wednesday — the first with fewer than 400 cases since April 7.
Ontario reported 347 additional cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. And while figures represent a considerably lower daily growth rate than what the province has typically seen throughout April, public health officials have cautioned against inferring trends from any single data point.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said earlier this week that the province would need to see two to four weeks of declining daily growth, as well as hospitalization rates, before emergency measures could be loosened.
“I’m certainly hopeful this downward trend will continue,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
Union reports health-care worker death
SEIU Healthcare, a union that represents workers in long-term care homes, reported another health-care worker death as a result of COVID-19 on Wednesday afternoon, marking the third such death in the province since the start of the pandemic.
In a statement, the union said the woman was a personal support worker with the Victorian Order of Nurses in Peel Region.
“The tragic death of our union sister is the second loss of a personal support worker (PSW) in as many weeks as a result of ongoing failures to protect health-care workers during COVID-19,” the statement reads. Another personal support worker from Markham died earlier this month.
“Like many health-care workers precariously employed, she was a dedicated PSW who served her community through multiple employers and facilities in the Peel Region,” the union said, speaking about the most recent death.
“Our union has spoken to the family to offer whatever support is needed as they grieve the sudden loss of precious life. She will be missed and remembered.”
The union goes on to say in its statement that the province has not adequately protected PSWs through health and safety directives and personal protective equipment protocols.
Ford addresses ‘overzealous’ bylaw officers
Speaking at the news conference Wednesday, Ford also addressed a number reports of parents being ticketed seemingly for no reason while taking their children out for walks in public parks, while a group of anti-lockdown protesters at Queen’s Park on Saturday did not.
Ford had called the protestors “a bunch of yahoos” and said they were being “selfish” and “irresponsible” for demonstrating against provincial emergency orders in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In response to why they weren’t ticketed, Ford said he doesn’t “direct” the police and that while some bylaw officers may be a little “overzealous,” on the whole they’re doing an “incredible job.”
Ford was also asked about public servants and defended his decision not to lay any off amid the pandemic.
“It’s not like people are sitting outside with their feet up having a Margarita,” he said. “They’re working.”
Ford also took the opportunity to caution anyone living where lockdown measures are beginning to lift, such as Quebec, Manitoba and the U.S., not to travel to Ontario.
“We welcome you at another time,” he said, but insisted that for now they “stay home.”
Testing backlog over 9,000
On Wednesday, Ontario saw its number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients increase by 20 in the last day, to 977 from 957. However, the number of people being treated in intensive care units dropped again, to 235 from 239. Patients on ventilators, a figure that has largely remained stable for several weeks, reduced by one, to 186 from 187.
The new instances of COVID-19 reported today put the cumulative provincial tally since the outbreak began in late January at 15,728. For the first time, more than 60 per cent of total cases are considered resolved.
The province says it processed 11,554 tests since its last update. The backlog of tests sits at 9,530. Public health officials previously said they hoped to be doing 14,000 tests per day by today, but whether or not that goal is achieved will be reflected in tomorrow’s data.
Williams said Wednesday the province is hoping for “a lot more testing to come,” adding that anyone who is symptomatic is able to get tested at one of Ontario’s assessment sites.
“We can’t force people to go; they have to do it of their own volition,” Williams said.
Some 37.5 per cent of all Ontarians infected by the novel coronavirus are known to have caught it through community transmission, while information is still pending for almost 34 per cent. Key questions about community transmission in Ontario remain unanswered.
The province also confirmed 45 more COVID-19-linked deaths, bringing the official toll to 996. Data compiled from regional public health units — a more direct way of counting that avoids lag times in Ontario’s data reporting system — puts the actual figure at at least 1,066.
Outbreaks of the novel coronavirus are being tracked in 181 of Ontario’s 626 long-term care homes, according to the Ministry of Health. Some 775 residents have died from the illness — nearly three quarters of all deaths in Ontario — while 2,352 more have been infected. The ministry also reported 1,108 staff members in long-term care facilities have tested positive.
Yaffe also offered up statistics from the province on cases in retirement homes. She said there are 593 cases and 117 deaths, on top of 263 staff cases.