The province is taking over management at five Ontario long-term care homes in the wake of a scathing military report a day earlier, with Premier Doug Ford saying he won’t hesitate to pull operators’ licences or shut homes down if necessary.
Ford made the announcement after what he called “gut-wrenching” conditions detailed in a report by the Canadian Armed Forces from five long-term care homes overrun by COVID-19.
Six teams of two inspectors each will be deployed to those five homes who will undertake “expanded and rigorous inspection and monitoring of these homes for a period of two weeks,” Ford said.
The premier also announced an independent commission looking into the province’s long-term care system will begin in July as opposed to in September, saying he would be willing to testify and would welcome his own offices being investigated if needed.
“In the face of those accusations, in the face of these problems, we will use every tool at our disposal,” Ford said.
Effectively immediately, the province will assume control of Eatonville in Etobicoke, Hawthorne Place in North York, Altamont Care Community in Scarborough, Orchard Villa in Pickering and Camilla Care in Mississauga. That brings the total number of homes taken over by the province to seven.
Asked if he would consider firing his minister of long-term care, Ford defended Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, saying he would not.
Ontario reported 292 additional cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the second straight day with a growth rate in total cases of 1.1 per cent.
The numbers mark the first instance of consecutive days with less than 300 new cases each since late March.
They come after Ontario saw a renewed surge in daily COVID-19 cases at the end of last week and over the weekend, which Health Minister Christine Elliott linked to families getting together for Mother’s Day earlier this month.
Wednesday’s figures are accompanied by a relative jump in testing levels. Some 15,133 tests were processed yesterday — still below the province’s benchmark of 16,000 per day and far fewer than the 23,000 the system has capacity to handle, but the most in a single day since since May 16.
The backlog of tests waiting to be processed grew to 11,817, meaning about 20,000 samples were added to the queue yesterday.
That means that gatherings are still limited to up to five people. Outdoor playgrounds, public swimming pools and bars and restaurants — with the exception of takeout and delivery services — will all remain closed.
The state of emergency, which provides the legislative framework through emergency orders are enacted, was first implemented in mid-March and is set to expire on June 2. Given today’s announcement, it is likely that it too will be extended.
The newly confirmed infections bring the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in the province to 26, 483. Nearly 77 per cent of those are now resolved. Meanwhile, the total number of health-care who have contracted the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began in late January surpassed 4,500 today, accounting for about 17 per cent of all cases.
More than 75% of active cases in Greater Toronto Area
Ontario’s official COVID-19 death toll grew by 32 and now sits at 2,155. Data compiled from regional public health units, however, puts the real current toll at at least 2,219 as of last evening.
A CBC News analysis published this morning found that more than three-quarters of the active cases of COVID-19 currently listed in the province’s database are found in the five public health units of Toronto, Peel, York, Durham and Halton regions.
Long-term care residents account for more than 77 per cent of all COVID-19-linked deaths in the province.
As part of its emergency orders, Ontario’s revised rules around staff redeployments at the province’s 630 long-term care homes will also remain in place.
The premier was notably absent from question period at Queen’s Park today, with Fullerton fielding a series of questions about the military report from the NDP.
Ford’s office said he skipped question period because “the premier’s primary focus right now is on ensuring we immediately address the situation documented in the CAF report that was released yesterday.
“He will be answering questions from the media later today.”
Toronto to unveil postal code data
Also Wednesday, the City of Toronto is expected to make public detailed postal code data showing where the city’s greatest concentrations of COVID-19 are located.
The data is expected to show a disproportionate impact in low-income neighbourhoods and multi-unit residences.
The province has said it is can measure COVID-19 hotspots by postal code, but has so far declined to make that information public, saying doing so could have a stigmatizing effect.
At his weekly news conference on Wednesday, Brampton mayor Patrick Brown called on the province to release that information as soon as possible “so residents know where there are areas of greater concern and areas where the virus seems to be circulating in the community.”
Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for the provincial minister of health, previously told CBC News Ontario’s hardest-hit regions are in Toronto, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex County, but would not specify further.
Ford elaborated slightly Monday afternoon, saying “parts” of those regions were most affected. He also mentioned parts of Brampton, north Etobicoke and Scarborough.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province intends to release more detailed information, though she did not say when that will happen.