The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) says the Ford government must improve access to COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and create safer working conditions at long-term care homes.
On Friday, Ontario reported that 541 long-term care residents have now died of COVID-19, an increase of 11 since Thursday. The province is also tracking outbreaks at eight additional long-term care homes, bringing the provincial total to 198.
The province also reported 421 new cases of the illness Friday morning, bringing the total to 16,608.
Data collected by CBC News from local public health agencies show at least 1,196 deaths in the province, an increase of 19 since Thursday.
While Ford and provincial public health officials have said the outbreak appears to be slowing among the general public, the situation in long-term care homes remains significantly more serious.
The OHC hopes that Friday’s day of action will put more pressure on the government to protect vulnerable residents and workers at those facilities.
“While measures that have been announced by the provincial government are welcome and sincerely appreciated, still there remains a dangerous disconnect between what the premier has said he is going to do and the actual policy measures undertaken by his government,” said OHC in a news release.
It goes on to say Ontario’s long-term care system is dealing with “critical” staffing shortages, particularly among personal support workers.
“Homes do not have enough staff to operate safely,” the OHC said.
The organization says its information is based on dozens of phone calls, correspondence and emails with residents and their families.
Ontario has introduced stricter screening protocols and increased testing at some long-term care homes during the pandemic.
The province also recently approved a $4 per hour wage increase for front-line workers and called in the military to assist at five long-term care facilities struggling with large outbreaks.
“We are taking action and we are going to resolve this situation,” said health minister Christine Elliott, citing some of those steps.
She also acknowledged concerns around staffing shortages and said the province is “making sure” there will be enough staff to assist residents during the crisis.
Commercial tenants worried about making rent
As Ontario enters its third month of the crisis, there are renewed concerns that some businesses will not be able to pay their rent.
While Ottawa announced a new federal rent relief program in April called the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA), funds from the program have not arrived in time for May rent payments, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has warned.
The organization is calling on federal and provincial leaders to supplement the program with a two-week moratorium on commercial evictions starting May 1.
“It is good that help is on the way, but for an increasingly large number of small businesses the time they are being asked to wait will result in permanent closure,” said OCC president and CEO Rocco Rossi in a statement.
“The pause will, simply put, give our small businesses the time they need to catch their collective breath.”