Ontario reported 170 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday morning, the largest single-day increase in the province since the outbreak began.
The additional cases bring the provincial tally to 858, including 13 deaths and eight cases that are resolved.
At least 12 of the new cases are hospitalized, including two people in their 20s. Information for dozens more cases is listed as “pending.”
Another 10,965 people are awaiting test results. Some 2,439 tests were completed in the past 24 hours, and there remains a backlog of at least, on average, four days.
A total of 38,550 people have been approved for testing, the province said.
Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to speak to reporters from Queen’s Park at 1 p.m. ET, one day after his government introduced a multi-billion dollar support package intended to help ease the burden of the COVID-19 outbreak on health-care workers, businesses and families.
The number of resolved cases is likely to increase considerably in coming days, as public health officials are changing the criteria for how cases are recorded. Until now, a case was not considered resolved until the infected person had two negative tests, performed at least 24 hours apart.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, said that the backlog on coronavirus tests has made that criteria untenable. Instead, a case will be marked resolved if the infected person feels fine after a two-week isolation period.
Yaffe also said Wednesday that those with mild symptoms will no longer be tested for COVID-19, and instead told to immediately self-isolate.
Meanwhile, memos obtained by CBC News suggest that major Toronto hospitals are rationing surgical masks and in some cases, administrators are urging nurses to use just one mask for an entire shift.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott has repeatedly said that there is enough personal protect equipment (PPE) for front-line health-care workers. Elliott is scheduled to join Ford at his news conference today, and she will likely be pressed about the concerns of hospital staff.
The province has asked business if they can provide key equipment and supplies.
Temporary changes to alcohol sales
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is temporarily allowing licensed restaurants and bars in the province to sell alcohol with food takeout and delivery orders between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The AGCO said the change was put into place because service industry businesses are among some of the hardest hit by the spread of COVID-19.
The alcohol can be transported by a third party, like a food delivery service.
Similarly, authorized grocery stores and liquor retailers can start selling alcohol at 7 a.m., the AGCO said, “in order to support early shopping programs for vulnerable people and to provide greater flexibility to retail stores.”
More cases at long-term care homes
Additional cases of COVID-19 in long-term care homes are surfacing in the GTA.
Sienna Senior Living, which owns and operates a network of long-term care facilities and retirement homes throughout Ontario and B.C., says one of its staff members, as well as a resident, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The staff member works at the Altamont Care Community, while the resident lives at Rockcliffe Care Community. Both facilities are in Scarborough.
In a statement, the company said that anti-coronavirus protocols were already in place by the time the tests were completed and that it is now working closely with Toronto Public Health to prevent any further spread inside its residences.
The news comes as public health officials in Durham Region work to contain an outbreak at the Hillsdale Terraces long-term care home in Oshawa. Five residents have tested positive — including one who died — while 28 others are in isolation.
Municipalities face financial stress
A group representing Ontario’s municipalities is asking the province to commit enough cash to keep cities from going into debt amid concerns that COVID-19 will throw them into a fiscal hole so deep they can’t climb out.
Brian Rosborough, executive director of the Association of Municipalities Ontario, said the group has asked the province to give them enough money that they don’t have to go into the red while they fund services such as paramedics, which are more important than ever during the pandemic.
“Municipalities are really going to have to be front and centre in the recovery effort, so the last thing they need is to manage this sort of operational deficit,” Rosborough said. “Municipalities will be appealing to the province and to the federal government for backstop funding that will make sure municipalities can continue to deliver the important work that they do.”
The need for funding is exacerbated by provincial rules that bar municipalities from budgeting deficits, which would give them only a year to get back into the black.
But Rosborough said changing those rules isn’t the answer either.
“That would put municipalities in considerable unnecessary debt after this crisis passes,” he said.
In Ontario, municipalities provide services that range from ambulances to police to road maintenance, which are also essential during a pandemic.