GO Transit makes masks mandatory as much of Ontario moves into Stage 3 of COVID-19 recovery
Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton, Niagara and Windsor-Essex will remain in Stage 2 for now
Ontario reported 111 additional cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as a large swath of the province moved into the next phase of the government's recovery plan.
Provincial transit agency Metrolinx also makes face coverings mandatory on GO buses and trains Friday, as well as on the UP Express as of Tuesday.
Staff will be onboard vehicles to inform customers about the policy, said the agency, adding that people should be understanding of riders who can't wear a face covering due to pre-existing conditions.
Masks are already mandatory inside indoor public settings in several Ontario municipalities.
Most cases in Toronto, Durham and Windsor-Essex
Friday's new cases bring the total in Ontario since the outbreak began in late January to 37,274. Of those, a full 89 per cent are considered resolved by the Ministry of Health. Another 111 infections were marked resolved in today's update.
Twenty-eight of the province's 34 public health units reported five or fewer newly confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus in the last 24 hours.
Today's cases are concentrated primarily in Toronto, Durham and Windsor-Essex, with 38, 11 and 21, respectively. None of the three public health units have been given a green light to move into Stage 3 of reopening.
Eighteen regions confirmed no new COVID-19 cases at all.
Ontario's network of labs processed more than 31,000 tests for the novel coronavirus, the most on any single day in about three weeks.
The Ministry of Health reported an additional nine COVID-19-linked deaths, bringing Ontario's official death toll to 2,746. A CBC News count based on data provided directly by public health units puts the real current toll at 2,774.
Hospital taking over care home in North York
About three quarters of all deaths from the illness in the province were residents in long-term care homes. Eight health-care workers within the long-term care system have also died with COVID-19. Health officials are tracking active outbreaks in 37 long-term care facilities.
Relatedly, the province said today that Humber River Hospital will temporarily take control of management of Villa Colombo in North York, which is struggling to contain its own outbreak of the virus. There are currently 16 known cases of COVID-19 among residents, while 27 others in the facility have died with the illness.
Meanwhile, another class action lawsuit has been launched against a long-term care home owned by Sienna Senior Living Inc.
Thomson Rogers says it's suing Weston Terrace Care Community for $15 million on behalf of residents and their families, alleging the York region home failed to provide basic care resulting in deaths due to COVID-19.
At least 34 residents have died from COVID-19 at the home. The suit alleges the Weston Terrace failed to implement screening measures for its staff and have "basic social distancing practices." It also alleges severe under-staffing and a failure to provide basic care to residents, resulting in neglect, illness and death.
The suit has not been certified and the allegations have not been proven in court.
Thomson Rogers says this is the third suit it has filed against Sienna Senior Living homes.
A spokesperson for Sienna Senior Living says the company is aware of the proposed class action, and "intend[s] to respond in due course through the appropriate court processes."
Across Ontario there are still three long-term care homes in the COVID-19 "red zone," Premier Doug Ford said Friday.
"In my opinion that's three too many," said Ford. But "just think how far we've come," he said.
A spokesperson for the ministry of long-term care says there were 66 homes considered "red" at the peak of the crisis.
""Red" homes are homes that are experiencing challenges containing the spread of COVID-19," said Adam Cotter, director of communications for the the long-term care minister.
Responding to reporter questions Friday, Ford said government "will come after" long-term care workers who stockpile personal protective equipment as they prepare for more visitors, saying there is no reason to do so.
"We have more PPE suppliers than we know what to do with," he said.
Stage 3 begins in parts of Ontario
Meanwhile, Stage 3 of the reopening effort takes effect across 24 public health units, though the jurisdictions that will keep operating under Stage 2 rules are among the busiest in the province.
Earlier this week, the government announced Stage 3 rules would allow restaurants to resume indoor service, as well as businesses such as bars, gyms and theatres to start welcoming patrons again.
The rules also raise the limits on the size of indoor gatherings to a maximum of 50 people, while as many as 100 people are allowed to congregate outdoors.
The new rules don't yet apply in the greater Toronto and Hamilton areas, the Niagara region and Windsor-Essex, all of which are still trying to reduce the numbers of local COVID-19 cases.
But Premier Doug Ford says the next phase of economic recovery suggests the province is turning a corner after feeling the ravages of the global pandemic.
"All of Ontario is now on the path to recovery," Ford said Thursday at a news conference in Chatham.
Ford has not yet offered a timeline as to when the rest of Ontario can enter Stage 3, but has promised weekly updates on the issue. The province's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, previously said he hopes to see the entire province entering the next phase of reopening by the end of July.
Province launching IP action plan
Speaking in Kitchener Friday, Ford announced an "intellectual property action plan" in an effort to keep intellectual property within the province. The government says it is moving forward on recommendations from an expert panel report in February.
"Too often the priceless intellectual property developed here in Ontario gets bought up by the big U.S. or international firms," said Ford.
Ford also announced 20 new projects approved in the second round of Ontario's $20 million COVID-19 rapid research fund.
He would not yet say how much money each municipality would receive from a federal deal announced Thursday, which will bring $7 billion to Ontario for COVID-19 recovery.
This week, Ford began a tour of the province during which he plans to visit businesses that have struggled through the province's COVID-19 emergency measures.
Not all businesses opening their doors
But not all businesses cleared to open their doors will be greeting customers on Friday.
Cineplex Entertainment, Canada's largest chain of movie theatres, announced it does not plan to resume operations immediately.
"We are still reviewing what's being proposed by the province, so as a result we aren't in a position to open our theatres in Ontario on Friday," spokeswoman Sarah Van Lange said in a statement.
Van Lange did not indicate when theatres may reopen.
The Cine Starz chain, however, has said its locations in Ottawa and Orleans will be open for business. A company statement indicated locations west of Toronto would reopen as soon as Stage 3 rules take effect in the region.
The government rules for Stage 3 state that any businesses resuming operations must maintain physical distancing measures for the safety of both patrons and staff.
Meanwhile as some indoor bars re-open, the Ontario Medical Association is urging the province to "rethink" that decision, saying other countries and Quebec have shown that bars pose a significant risk to spreading COVID-19.
The association, which represents 43,000 doctors and medical students, urged people to practice physical distancing if they do go to a bar.
"We strongly urge the government to learn from other jurisdiction's mistakes," said OMA CEO Allan O'Dette in a statement.
In a tweet Friday, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission in Ontario (AGCO) said it will be teaming up with the city to increase inspections this weekend, after "recent examples of bars in Toronto violating the restrictions."
With files from Lucas Powers, Laura Howells and The Canadian Press