2 more deaths, 170 new cases of COVID-19 in Ontario as officials warn number could 'go up'
Province says there have been 15 deaths and 8 cases that are resolved
Ontario reported 170 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday morning, the largest single-day increase in the province since the outbreak began.
The additional cases bring the provincial tally to 858. That total includes 15 deaths and eight cases that are resolved.
Of the people infected, 29 are in ICU in hospital, 20 of them on ventilators. Two of the patients are in their 20s. Information for dozens more cases is listed as "pending."
Ontario saw six new deaths reported since Wednesday morning, when officials reported a total of nine.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, said of the new deaths, one was in Ottawa, three were in Toronto and two were in Durham Region.
Yaffe added that of the cases that have had their public health investigation completed, exposure information is still missing for about 38 per cent. A quarter of the cases are believed to have taken place through community spread.
"We do know 60 per cent had travelled in the days prior to becoming ill, 15 per cent had a close contact with a close case, 25 per cent had neither a history of travel nor contact with a confirmed case, so they were likely acquired in the community," Yaffe said.
"Those who travelled outside of Canada, the United States and Europe remain the most popular destinations."
Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams said at an afternoon news conference that the number of cases across the country are "going up rapidly," and he would not be surprised to see a further jump in Ontario.
He pointed out that social distancing and physical separation measures first kicked in about two weeks ago with the announcement of schools closing beyond the March break and people being told not to travel.
"At the same time on that weekend announcement, people started to return — having been away — in ever increasing numbers. It especially escalated during the week starting Monday the 16th and growing in that time," Williams said.
"I think if you look at the timelines … it's not surprising that we're going to see our numbers rising right now because the number of people that started to come back into Canada started to rise over the weekend after the 12th and 13th … and we knew that more and more came back during the week of the 16th up until this past weekend.
"So, it would not be surprising to me to see our numbers in the next few days go up again," Williams added.
He explained that there are two things that could impact the numbers — more people coming back from overseas and potentially incubating; and the province's lab testing capabilities starting to ramp up even further.
10,965 people awaiting test results
There are approximately 10,965 people awaiting test results. Some 2,439 tests were completed in the past 24 hours, and there remains a backlog of at least, on average, four days. That's despite Ontario's health minister Christine Elliott saying that she expects the province to be able to to process some 5,000 each day by the end of this week.
So far, a total of 38,550 people have been approved for testing, the province has said.
Premier Doug Ford spoke to reporters from Queen's Park Thursday afternoon, one day after his government introduced a multi-billion dollar support package intended to help ease the burden of the COVID-19 outbreak on health-care workers, businesses and families.
"It's an unprecedented plan for an unprecedented time," Ford said.
Elliott told reporters that $341 million of that funding will go toward creating 1,000 acute care and 500 critical care beds.
The number of resolved cases is likely to increase considerably in coming days, with public health officials changing the criteria for how cases are recorded. Until now, a case was not considered resolved until the infected person had two negative tests, performed at least 24 hours apart.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Yaffe said that the backlog on coronavirus tests has made that criteria untenable. Instead, a case will be marked resolved if the infected person feels fine after a two-week isolation period.
Yaffe also said Wednesday that those with mild symptoms will no longer be tested for COVID-19, and will instead be told to immediately self-isolate.
Meanwhile, memos obtained by CBC News suggest that major Toronto hospitals are rationing surgical masks and in some cases, administrators are urging nurses to use just one mask for an entire shift.
Elliott has repeatedly said that there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line health-care workers, and on Thursday insisted there is no rationing.
"If they need the masks, they will get the masks," she said, adding that decisions about how masks are distributed are being "made by hospitals."
"As of today, we certainly have the supplies we need," she said.
The province has also asked business if they can provide key equipment and supplies.
Temporary changes to alcohol sales
Also on Thursday, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is temporarily allowing licensed restaurants and bars in the province to sell alcohol with food takeout and delivery orders between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The AGCO said the change was put into place because service industry businesses are among some of the hardest hit by the spread of COVID-19.
The alcohol can be transported by a third party, like a food delivery service.
Similarly, authorized grocery stores and liquor retailers can start selling alcohol at 7 a.m., the AGCO said, "in order to support early shopping programs for vulnerable people and to provide greater flexibility to retail stores."
Ford said Thursday that retailers had been asking for this change.
"I think it's a good idea, if people don't have to leave their homes," he said.
Premier denounces price gouging
Ford also took aim at retailers who are reportedly jacking up their prices at his latest press conference, after he was asked about a company that was charging $30 for cleaning wipes.
"That's disgusting," Ford said.
He added that the province is going to make price gouging "illegal," and is planning an order to that effect.
He also had a message for any retailer that is found to be inflating its prices to an extreme: "We're going to come after you hard."
More cases at long-term care homes
Additional cases of COVID-19 in long-term care homes are surfacing in the GTA.
Sienna Senior Living, which owns and operates a network of long-term care facilities and retirement homes throughout Ontario and B.C., says one of its staff members, as well as a resident, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The staff member works at the Altamont Care Community, while the resident lives at Rockcliffe Care Community. Both facilities are in Scarborough.
In a statement, the company said that anti-coronavirus protocols were already in place by the time the tests were completed and that it is now working closely with Toronto Public Health to prevent any further spread inside its residences.
The news comes as public health officials in Durham Region work to contain an outbreak at the Hillsdale Terraces long-term care home in Oshawa. Five residents have tested positive — including one who died — while 28 others are in isolation.
Toronto's Luminato Festival cancelled because of COVID-19
Also Thursday, organizers announced that the Luminato Festival, which draws artists from around the world to Toronto, has been cancelled this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The festival was launched in 2007 to help revive the city's cultural scene in the wake of 2003's SARS outbreak.
Organizers said they were mindful of these origins in making the decision to cancel this June's festival to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"Everyone at Luminato is determined to do whatever we can to help ensure that Toronto's cultural community survives this critical period," CEO Anthony Sargent and artistic director Naomi Campbell said in a statement Thursday.
"We will play our part to help rebuild all the things that will need rebuilding."
More than 40 cultural events were scheduled to take place across Toronto between June 11 and 28.
With files from Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press