Ontarians told to 'lock down' to prevent further community spread of COVID-19

Public health authorities in Ontario confirmed 60 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, marking the largest single-day increase since the outbreak began and pushing the provincial total to 318.

Paramedic, homeless person among those infected as COVID-19 cases top 318 in Ontario

Ontario chief medical officer Dr. David Williams says there are some people 'who are choosing to be casual' about social distancing and he is 'strongly emphasising that’s not to be done.' (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams on Friday called on people to take social distancing seriously, as he acknowledged that community spread of COVID-19 is happening in the province.

Speaking at an afternoon news conference, Williams said the next five or six days will be a "critical time period," because of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been returning home from March break travel, some bringing the virus along with them.

"In another week or so it will be 14 days out for all the people returning. If we don't do it stringently and we continue to see extensive amounts of so-called community or a wider transmission because people are not adhering to that, then it will go longer again because we have not maintained that type of discipline in that time," Williams said.

"That has all sorts of impacts on how long we are going to keep doing some things and can we be effective and lock down really hard now for the next five or seven days."

Williams said there are some people "who are choosing to be casual" about social distancing and he is "strongly emphasising that's not to be done."

TORONTO COVID-19 UPDATE: March 20, 2020

3 years ago
Duration 16:21
Dwight Drummond has the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic in the Greater Toronto Area.

On Friday public health authorities in Ontario confirmed 60 new cases of COVID-19, marking the largest single-day increase since the outbreak began and pushing the provincial total to 318. Fifty cases were reported in the morning and a further 10 were reported in the evening.

The official tally includes two deaths linked to the virus and five cases considered resolved.

"As of 1 p.m. today, there are 161 cases of COVID-19 in Toronto and 10 individuals are currently hospitalized," Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa said at an afternoon news conference. That total includes three cases de Villa called "concerning," including:

  • A person experiencing homelessness
  • A Toronto paramedic
  • A resident of a city-run long-term care home

Mayor John Tory said in an update on Friday that arrangements have been made to make sure the person who is experiencing homelessness is isolated. Tory also said the paramedic is at home resting, and that the city is taking steps to make sure that person's case is just an isolated incident. 

Four of the province's newest cases are residents of a long-term care home in Oshawa.

Most businesses are closed and so is the border as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The number of cases under investigation in the province has reached 5,485, a 28 per cent increase from the 3,971 reported as of Thursday evening. Public Health Ontario said this week that the average turnaround time for tests is four days, however various medical professionals have told CBC Toronto that the waiting period is between five and seven days.

As of 1:10 p.m. ET on Friday, there were 945 presumptive and confirmed cases in Canada, with 12 deaths in four provinces and 11 cases listed as recovered.

Province expects to be testing 5,000 a day next week

An influx of new testing kits from the federal government means health care workers in Ontario will be able to test up to 5,000 people a day for COVID-19 by early next week, according to Barbara Yaffe, the province's associate medical officer of health at a news conference on Friday afternoon. 

"Hospital staff are working multiple shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Yaffe said. Ontario is currently able to test approximately 2,000 people a day, according to Premier Doug Ford. 

New learning portal launched

Meanwhile, the Ontario government said it is launching a new online learning portal for students shut out of their schools as part of the province's effort to contain COVID-19s.

Called "Learn from Home," the province says the portal will offer " high-quality, made-in-Ontario math and literacy resources, created by Ontario-certified educators, in both English and French."

All of Ontario's publicly-funded schools were closed for two weeks after March Break to April 5 by a ministerial order earlier this month, and all standardized testing has been cancelled. As part of the state of emergency declared by Ford on Tuesday, private schools and daycares are also closed.

2nd phase for online learning possible

At a news conference at Queen's Park, Ford outlined the online learning content alongside Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and Minister of Health Christine Elliott.

The resources offer interactive activities for elementary students and a focus on STEM courses for high school students.

Many of the online activities are from TVO, the province's public broadcaster.

At least 161 of Ontario's COVID-19 cases are in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Its television schedule is also being changed to add more educational programming for kids during the day.

A release from the government says that "work is underway" to provide the necessary technology to any student that doesn't have access to a computer, though it doesn't detail how that will be accomplished.

Lecce said that if school closures must stay in place past April 5, a second phase of online resources will be available to students and families.

Child care centres to reopen for some workers

Tory said plans were being finalized to open previously shuttered child care centres in Toronto for the families of health care and emergency workers. He said more details would be provided soon. 

Ontarians 'aren't going to be evicted,' Ford says

Ford also addressed fears some renters have about not being able to afford housing amid the shutdowns that have cost many their jobs.

"No one should be kicked out of their home or rental apartments based on not being able to pay their rent," Ford said. 

He then said anyone who was able to pay their rent should, adding, "this doesn't give a free pass to people." But he insisted that the priority for Ontarians is "putting food on the table."

"If they can't pay rent, they aren't going to be evicted," he said. 

Grace period for property tax, utilities in Toronto

Meanwhile, Toronto residents will have an extra 60 days to pay property tax, water and solid waste utility bills, the city said Friday as it tries to limit economic fallout from measures to contain COVID-19.

Mayor John Tory's office said in a statement that the grace period is retroactive to March 16. 

Similarly, a 30-day extension offered earlier this week to businesses on tax and utility payments has also been pushed to 60 days. 

"This will ensure that resident and businesses who find themselves facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 can defer their next property tax instalment without penalty," Tory's office said. Property tax accounts will be "adjusted as necessary" to reflect the relief measures, it added.

Dr. Eileen De Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, said Thursday afternoon that 128 of the province's cases are in the city. Eleven of those patients are being treated in hospital, while the rest are at home in self-isolation, she said.

Updated numbers are expected from the province around 5:30 p.m. ET.

4 cases in Oshawa long-term care home

The patients in the Hillsdale Terraces long-term care facility include two women, ages 92 and 80, and two men, ages 71 and 68.

All are currently being treated in two separate wards of the home, officials said, and they will remain there for the duration of their recoveries.

COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities have proven especially deadly. In B.C., seven residents of the Lynn Valley Care Centre Lodge in North Vancouver have died from the respiratory illness.

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials have linked 35 deaths to the spread of COVID-19 at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash. 

With files from The Canadian Press


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