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Ontario reports 379 new COVID-19 cases, but testing declines

Ontario reported another 379 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the provincial total to 4,726, but saw testing continue to decline since the start of the month, with a drop from 6,200 test results on April 1 to just 2,568 today.

The official tally includes 153 deaths, though CBC News has compiled data from local health units and counted at least 177 deaths throughout the province.

More than 500 health-care workers in the province have tested positive, representing about 11 per cent of all of the confirmed cases in Ontario. Another 691 people are awaiting test results.

The number of tests Ontario has completed daily has dropped steadily over the past week — a worrying trend, according to doctors who argue that widespread testing is the only way to get an accurate picture of the spread of COVID-19 and a crucial tool to make sure those who are infected don’t transmit the virus further.

The number of tests “is definitely not the curve we want to see flattening,” tweeted Dr Yoni Freedhoff, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa.

The province’s Ministry of Health had targeted conducting 5,000 tests per day by the end of March, increasing weekly to reach a goal peak of 19,000 tests per day by the third week of April.

Ontario now has the lab capacity to run 13,000 tests per day but the province’s COVID-19 assessment centres are only submitting about 3,500 tests daily, said Hayley Chazan, director of media relations for Health Minister Christine Elliott in an email.

“This surplus in capacity means that we can now look at testing more people, particularly priority populations, including health care staff, residents and staff in long-term care and retirement homes and Indigenous communities,” wrote Chazan.

“We expect to have more to say about a new testing strategy that makes full use of this capacity shortly.”

Ontario has administered a total of 81,364 tests, more than any other province, Williams said.

Of the 614 total current cases that have required hospitalization:

  • 233 are in intensive care units.
  • 187 are on a ventilator.

Meanwhile, a shipment of badly needed medical masks is expected today.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford called the news from 3M about the deal it reached to continue supplying masks a welcome one, after U.S. President Donald Trump earlier tried to compel the company to halt distribution outside that country.

But Ford also said, “There’s still a lot of work to be done to secure enough PPE for the province of Ontario.”

New online portal matches skilled workers with employers

Ford has said the province is still facing a major shortage of key supplies and could be out of masks in less than two weeks, even with the new shipment.

The premier said Monday a shipment of about 500,000 masks had been held up at the Canada -U.S. border, but was expected in the province by the end of the day. For now, domestic supply is ramping-up and the first made-in-Ontario face masks are ready for use.

Ford said Tuesday that Ontarians cannot solely rely on the global supply chain, adding “we need the federal government to come through” on its supply, at the same time underscoring the need for the province to produce its own supplies.

Ford also announced the launch of a new online portal to match skilled front-line workers with employers who need positions filled.

The province says the Health Workforce Matching Portal will allow health-care providers with a range of experiences —including retired or non-active health-care professionals, internationally-educated health-care professionals, students, and volunteers with health care experience — to join in the province’s fight against COVID-19.

“The portal will match the availability and skill sets of frontline health care workers to the employers in need of assistance to perform a variety of public health functions, such as case and contact management,” the province said in a news release.

Asked to what extent the new measures will include internationally-trained professionals, Health Minister Christine Elliott said those people may or may not be called on specifically to practice medicine depending on their skills, but that the province needs “all hands on deck.”

Ford was at Woodbridge’s manufacturing facility in Vaughan Tuesday where the first 1,000 Level 3 masks have been produced.

The company hopes to eventually produce one million a week and have them certified as N95 masks to be used in all health-care settings.

Warnings for first responders

Ontario’s first responders will now be warned before they go to a site where they will come into contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says the alerts will ensure the health of those working on the front lines.

The information disclosed will be limited to the person’s name, address, date of birth and whether the individual has had a positive test result.

Layoffs at the ROM

The Royal Ontario Museum is temporarily laying off some employees, while others — including executives — are taking a 20 per cent pay cut amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a memo sent to staff, ROM director and CEO Josh Basseches said that the institution will likely not reopen to the public until the end of June, or possibly later.

“In the over 100 years since the founding of the ROM, an extended closure due to external circumstances such as this pandemic has never occurred before,” he said.

“The financial impacts on the museum as a result of the closure are sudden and profound.”

Basseches said that without ticket and retail sales, food service and client events, as well as an anticipated drop in philanthropic contributions, the ROM does “not have sufficient resources to fully support salary costs.”

As a result, he said, some employees will move to a reduced work week, while others will be required to take a temporary emergency leave of absence.

The museum will continue to pay full and part-time staff through April 10.

Donation bins overflowing

With donation bins overflowing and in some cases surrounded by illegally dumped garbage, Diabetes Canada has issued an open letter to community leaders and elected officials to help raise awareness about the issue.

The association, which stopped donation pickups on March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said the bin situation is “posing a serious health and safety issue.”

Many Canadians have used their extra time at home to declutter in recent weeks. However, with thrift stores closed and most bins taped off or full, there are few options available to donate items.

Diabetes Canada said it does not have the financial resources to deploy staff to clean the rubbish around its over 5,000 bins around the country.

The association said it has contacted government agencies to help remove the garbage, but efforts have been unsuccessful.

“Diabetes Canada donation bins are overflowing and some are becoming a dumping ground for well-meaning citizens who want to support our work,” the open letter said.

The donation pickup stoppage resulted in the temporary layoff of over 500 staffers, the association said.

CBC

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