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Ontario premier wants U.S. border to stay shut for time being

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday he doesn't think the time is right to look at reopening the border between Canada and the United States.

Province confirms 329 new COVID-19 cases as total number of infections top 21,000

The U.S. border is closed to non-essential travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday it needs to stay that way for now. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday he doesn't think the time is right to look at reopening the border between Canada and the United States.

Ford said trade is excluded from his stance, as "that's critical" — but when it comes to visitors, no one should be going back and forth.

"I want to keep it closed, and I made it very clear on the call with the premiers and prime minister, we need it closed," Ford said Wednesday at his daily news conference.

"Right now, we're going to have to keep the borders closed … we just can't risk it."

Both countries reached an agreement in March to temporarily close the border to non-essential travel — meaning no recreational visits — while keeping it open to commercial traffic and essential workers who cross for work. It was extended in April by 30 days and is set to expire on May 21.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that Canada will be "very careful" about reopening any international travel.

"Preventing transmission from outside of Canada into Canada, once we have controlled the spread within Canada, will be an essential part of ensuring that we don't fall back into a second wave that could be as serious as this wave we're going through, or even more so," Trudeau said.

WATCH: Prime Minster Trudeau addresses the U.S. border

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted that Canada is in no rush to ease restrictions at the U.S. border to allow for non-essential travel.  2:11

Ontario reported 329 additional cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the province's total number since the outbreak began to more than 21,200.

Nearly three quarters, or some 15,845, of the cumulative cases are now resolved, according to the Ministry of Health.

The number of new daily cases has now been below 400 for six of the last seven days.

Ontario's official death toll grew to 1,765, an increase of 40 since its last update. Data compiled from regional public health units, however, puts the actual at at least 1,839.

The province network of labs processed 15,137 tests, the third consecutive day it has failed to reach its target of 16,000 tests per day. The backlog of samples waiting to be processed grew 13,395.

Hospitalization figures remained largely steady. The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospital fell to 1,018, a drop of seven. Those in intensive care units fell by three, down to 189. And subset of those patients on ventilators decreased two, down to 144.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province's associate chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday she is "cautiously optimistic" about the trends she's seeing. That includes an effective reproduction number — which represents the number of new infections believed to stem from a single case — under one across the province from May 3 to May 9, including in the GTA, which houses over half of Ontario's cases.

"In general, I think the trends are very positive," she said, adding that health officials still need to see numbers drop for a longer period of time.

Ford said Wednesday that he wants people and businesses to "get ready for stage one" of reopening the province.

According to Ontario's framework, that stage would include the reopening of select workplaces that can "immediately meet" public health guidance and some outdoor spaces such as parks.

But, Ford said, "we aren't quite there yet.

"It all depends on the numbers," he said.

New emergency order enacted

Meanwhile, a new emergency order allows the Ontario government to temporarily control the management of long-term care homes hardest hit by COVID-19.

Ford said in a news released issued Wednesday morning that the move will help ensure the spread of the virus in care homes is contained.

The order allows the province to step in if a facility has a high number of infections or deaths, or if it's facing a staffing shortage.

The province said the appointed manager could be any person, including a corporation or hospital.

Last week, the government asked facilities with outbreaks to come up with a plan to stabilize the virus's spread within their walls.

Some 1,269 residents of long-term care comes in Ontario have died from COVID-19-related illness, while 2,982 have been infected with the novel coronavirus.

There are currently active outbreaks in 180 facilities, while public officials have tracked outbreaks in 256 of the province's 630 long-term care homes since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ontario in late January.

Crosses erected by the families of deceased residents stand on the lawn outside of Camilla Care Community, a long-term care facility in Mississauga, Ont., where 50 people have died during an outbreak of COVID-19. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Minister of education now says school info coming next week

While Ford said last weekend that news about the remainder of the school year would be coming sometime this week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce didn't offer any details about the government's plan in Wednesday's news conference. Lecce said parents can now "expect an outcome" by "early next week."

He said parents "deserve" to know the province's plan, but "safety must come first."

Instead, Lecce spoke about the government's ongoing plan to allow school board employees to be voluntarily redeployed to hospitals, long-term care homes, retirement homes and women's shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We need people to step up and to continue to step up in a big way," he said, adding that staffers will be fully trained and provided with personal protective equipment. The first deployment of workers is now underway, he said.

WATCH: Lecce speaks about worker redeployment

Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s minister of education, says the government is working with the education sector to voluntarily redeploy staff to help in congregate settings like long-term care homes and shelters. 1:17

Lecce also said he "wouldn't read into" this redeployment that school would not resume this year, saying the agreement can be terminated at any point by the employee or employer."

The province said last evening that a health-care practitioner who worked at a seniors' facility in London was the first registered nurse to die in Ontario.

Brian Beattie, an RN at Kensington Village in the city's east end, died recently, according to the facility's management.

With files from the CBC's Catharine Tunney and The Canadian Press

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