Ontario announced a new plan, that will be phased in over the coming weeks, to allow people to visit loved ones in long-term care and retirement homes where there aren’t COVID-19 outbreaks.
Those visits will be allowed as soon as June 18.
Long-term care homes that are not in an outbreak — defined as any more than a single case — will allow one visitor per resident, once a week in an outdoor setting.
“We need families to be able to see their loved ones and today we’re taking the first steps to help reunite families, to help reunite loved ones in the safest way possible,” said Premier Doug Ford at Thursday’s news conference.
This new measure comes with many strict conditions for visitors. All visitors must have tested negative for the novel coronavirus in the past two weeks, complete a health questionnaire, and during the visit, must wear a face mask or covering, maintain a safe physical distance, and wash or disinfect their hands.
203 new cases
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 203 additional cases of COVID-19 and a record number of tests completed on Thursday, on the eve of much of the province moving into the next phase of reopening.
The newly confirmed infections mark the fewest seen on a single day since March 28 and just a 0.6 per cent increase in total cases.
More than 82 per cent, or some 25,885, of Ontario’s cumulative cases are resolved. There were twice as many recoveries, 505, than additional confirmed infections reported yesterday.
There are currently 3,172 active cases in the province, the fewest since new daily cases started to rise again in mid-May.
Some 78 per cent of Ontario’s active cases are concentrated in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), while another 12 per cent are in other regions not moving forward into the next stage of reopening tomorrow.
Further, the province’s network of labs processed 24,341 tests, nearly reaching the system’s capacity of 25,000 on any given day. Another 16, 359 are in the queue waiting to be processed.
The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to drop, falling by 42 down to 538 — the fewest since April 5.
The number of those being treated in intensive care units and with ventilators both remained relatively steady at 120 and 87, respectively.
Ontario’s official death toll grew by 12 to 2,487. It’s the third straight day that the official count has increased by fewer than 15 deaths. A CBC News count based on data compiled directly from regional public health units, however, puts the real current death toll at 2,535.
Nearly 79 per cent of all deaths in the province were residents of long-term care homes. Relatedly, public health officials have tracked COVID-19 outbreaks in a total of 316 long-term care facilities, though 77 remain active.
Premier, health minister test negative
Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott both tested negative for COVID-19, Ford’s office said today.
The pair underwent testing “out of an abundance of caution” yesterday afternoon after being in close contact with Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who himself tested negative for the virus.
Lecce had an assessment completed in Toronto after learning he had recently been in contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19. In a statement, a spokesperson for Lecce’s office said that he will remain in isolation for two weeks from the time of exposure, June 6 to June 20, and monitor for any potential symptoms.
Ford and Elliot are scheduled to be at today’s daily COVID-19 briefing at Queen’s Park.
“To be clear, both Premier Ford and Minister Elliott have had no known contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and as a result, there is no need for either of them to self-isolate,” said Ivana Yelich, spokesperson for Ford’s office, in an email.
The news conference is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET. Merrilee Fullerton, minister of long-term care and Todd Smith, minister of children, community and social services are slated to join them.
Ontario appoints new patient ombudsman
Meanwhile, the provincial government announced today that it has appointed a new patient ombudsman.
The role sat vacant for two years after Elliott, who was appointed to the position by the previous Liberal government, resigned in 2018 to run in the Progressive Conservative leadership race. The office continued to operate, however.
Cathy Fooks will step into the job effective July 13, the province said. Fooks has been the president and CEO of The Change Foundation, an independent health policy think tank based in Toronto, since 2007. Before that, she served as executive director of the now-defunct Health Council of Canada, a public reporting agency focused on health-care reform.
Her term as patient ombudsman will last five years, though the government can renew after that period.
Fooks will oversee an investigation into the experiences of patients and caregivers in Ontario’s long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation was announced by the Patient Ombudsman’s office on June 2.
New transit guidelines
Ontario is recommending passengers wear face coverings or non-medical masks on public transit to fight the spread of COVID-19.
It also urges commuters to practice physical distancing and hand washing, and the installation of barriers between drivers and passengers along with frequent cleanings.
The Toronto Transit Commission, for example, is making face coverings mandatory on its public transit system, a rule that could go into effect starting July 2.
The face-covering recommendation comes as the province releases safety guidance to transit agencies as the economy reopens and people return to work.
Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney says the guidelines were designed in consultation with health and transit authorities.