Ontario reported 404 additional cases of COVID-19 on Monday, which is a 1.5 per cent jump in newly-confirmed infections — and premier Doug Ford says that rise is somewhat driven by over 80 migrant workers in southwestern Ontario who tested positive for the virus.
The overall number marks a slight increase relative to daily growth rates seen over the last week. At a news conference Monday afternoon, Ford said he would address the issue of infection among migrant workers with public health officials, both to ensure the workers get tested to keep them safe, and to keep the supply chain safe.
At her own news conference Monday, Associate Medical Officer of Health Barbara Yaffe said there had been a confirmed outbreak in Norfolk County where 85 workers tested positive and five were admitted to hospital.
Yaffe said temporary foreign workers are “essential workers providing essential duties,” and added that public health measures are in place to prevent infection and spread on Ontario farms.
“They are very important part of the farming industry in Ontario,” she said.
The new cases come as the number of tests processed dropped below the province’s target of 16,000 after four straight days of surpassing the benchmark.
Ontario’s network of about 20 labs processed 14,379 samples yesterday. It has the capacity to complete up to 25,000 on any given day, according to the Ministry of Health. The backlog of test samples waiting to be processed sits at 6,427.
Ford said mobile testing units are now out in the field, and testing will be available for residents in Scarborough from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday at 1250 Markham Rd. The province had previously identified parts of Scarborough as a hot spot for infections.
Ontario has now seen a total of 28,263 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in late January. About 78.4 per cent of those are resolved.
Yaffe said that of Monday’s 404 new cases, 120 came from Toronto, while 103 came from Peel region.
CBC News has counted 2,329 COVID-19-linked deaths throughout the province as of Sunday evening. About 79 per cent of all deaths were residents of long-term care homes.
Meanwhile, the number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 stands at 781 — the fewest since April 14. Some 125 of those patients are being treated in intensive care units, while 89 currently require a ventilator.
When asked Monday if people could expect to see some easing of emergency orders, Ford said: “We’re working very aggressively on coming up with a plan to get the economy going based on the numbers.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province still has a ways to go before it can initiate the second phase of its reopening plan.
For that to be considered, Elliott said, new cases have to continue on a downward trend, hospital capacity must be manageable, testing would need to remain at a high rate, and contact tracing would have to be regularly conducted.
Provincial officials also spoke about changes to electricity rates. Ford said electricity ratepayers will pay a fixed rate of 12.8 cents a kilowatt hour, 24 hours a day, until Oct. 31.
“No one will have their power cut off because they cannot afford to pay their hydro bill right now,” Ford added.
Ombudsman to investigate long-term care
Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé announced today that his office will investigate the government’s oversight of long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, with specific focus on the efforts by the Ministry of Long-term Care and the Ministry of Health were enough to “ensure the safety of residents and staff.”
In a statement, Dubé said he was launching the investigation of his own accord following a damning report by the Canadian Armed Forces that detailed troubling conditions inside five long-term care homes.
The probe will examine:
- Complaint handling.
- Emergency planning.
- Data collection on COVID-19 cases.
- Support measures put in place during the pandemic.
- Communication between the ministries and staff and residents of long-term care facilities.
There is no set timeframe for the completion of the report, Dubé said.
Ford addressed the probe Monday, saying he welcomed an investigation. The premier also said he would welcome any investigation from the auditor general, the coroner’s office, and “possibly police.”
“We’re going to fix this problem as sure as I’m standing here,” Ford said.
Changes to labour laws
Ontario is temporarily amending its labour laws to help businesses avoid permanently laying off workers and paying out severance during the pandemic.
On Monday, the government announced amendments the Employment Standards Act, which currently requires businesses to terminate employees who have been laid off for 13 weeks.
The law then requires companies to pay severance to those workers, which the government fears could bankrupt some businesses.
The change will see non-unionized workers who have had their hours reduced or eliminated placed on a temporary leave that preserves their job. Workers will still be eligible for federal emergency income support programs.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from employers that they don’t want to be forced to terminate their employees,” Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said in a statement. “We have to step in to make sure workers have jobs to return to.”
The amendment will expire six weeks after the province’s declared state of emergency ends.
Last month, Ontario’s fiscal watchdog said an estimated 1.1 million workers in the province have lost their jobs, and another 1.1 million have seen their hours sharply reduced.
According to Statistics Canada, Ontario lost 689,200 jobs in April, bringing its employment down to the lowest level since 2009. The province’s unemployment rate climbed to 11.3 per cent, the highest it has been since 1993.
Small and medium-sized businesses, and groups that advocate on their behalf, had been asking for the temporary change to the province’s labour laws.
More restrictions loosened
Ontario is also loosening some more of its COVID-19 restrictions today.
As of Monday, campers can return to provincial parks, with certain stipulations, while drive-in movie theatres and batting cages were allowed to reopen Sunday.
It was announced this morning that Ontario’s chief medical officer of health and associate chief medical officer of health will now hold their own briefings only twice weekly, every Monday and Thursday. Previously, the pair were doing COVID-19 briefings five days a week.