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Ontario to spend $150M on rural broadband as province reports 338 new COVID-19 cases

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he’s investing $150 million to expand broadband internet and cell service on Wednesday, saying that “reliable high speed internet is no longer a luxury.”

That money is part of a $315 million dollar plan, previously announced in July.

“We all deserve the opportunity to join the economy of the 21st century,” said Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott.

In a release, the province says money will go towards a portion of approved projects pitched by groups like telecom companies, municipal governments, First Nation communities, and non-profits.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who had called on the federal government to help support broadband expansion over the weekend, says the government will also connect all Ontario high schools to broadband by September 2020 and all elementary schools by September 2021.

The province reported 338 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — a decrease after several days of growing numbers.

Questions on ‘social bubbles’ and regional reopening

The 338 new cases being reported Wednesday represent a 1.2 per cent increase in total cases.

Prior to that, Ontario’s numbers had risen consistently since Sunday, landing above 400 for the last two days. There’s also been increasing focus on growing infections among farm and migrant workers.

The Ministry of Health’s official death toll grew by 19 to 2,312. But a more accurate COVID-19 death toll is at least 2,363, according to a CBC News count based on data from regional public health units.

“With the declining cases in Quebec now, it really leaves Ontario as a bit of an outlier, a place that’s been unable to get off of the plateau,” said University of Toronto epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman in an interview with CBC News on Tuesday.

With that as a backdrop, ministers faced questions on Wednesday about how reopening will proceed, including whether, as Ford had said he was considering last week, it could be carried out differently in different regions.

The Premier told reporters that outbreaks among migrant workers “shouldn’t affect the rest of the community,” and wouldn’t impact how reopening moves forward.

“We’ll go in there and we’ll work with the farmers,” said Ford, saying that the government has already given farmers $2 million to buy workers PPE and that inspections continue.

Health Minister Christine Elliott also said the government is considering the possibility of Ontarians expanding their “social bubbles” to include people outside of their own households — but had nothing definitive to announce.

Long-term care home investigations begin

Yesterday, the provincial patient ombudsman announced it would be probing the province’s long-term care sector and put out a call for input. A similar investigation was announced by the provincial ombudsman one day earlier.

In a news release issued Wednesday, The Ontario Long Term Care Association called on the federal government to help pay for more resources and staff in advance of an anticipated second wave of COVID-19 cases.

Among the requests: more personal protective equipment and testing, a national human resources strategy for connecting new staff to homes in need, and capital investment to build and re-develop long-term care homes.

According to Wednesday’s provincial report, there are 94 active outbreaks in long-term care homes, and 203 that are now considered resolved. The same report says that 1,661 of Ontario’s deaths were long-term care home residents.

CBC

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