Toronto

Ontario announces plan to allow visitors at some long-term care homes

The Ford government announced a new plan to allow visits to long-term care and retirement homes where there aren't COVID-19 outbreaks.

Ontario reports fewest new COVID-19 cases since late March and processed a record number of tests

The office of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, right, said he and Health Minister Christine Elliott, centre, would attend Thursday's COVID-19 briefing at Queen's Park. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Ontarians will be able to visit loved ones in long-term care and retirement homes starting next week if they test negative for COVID-19.

Premier Doug Ford, along with Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton announced a new plan on Thursday that will allow people to visit long-term care, retirement homes and other congregate living settings where there aren't COVID-19 outbreaks.

Those visits will be allowed to start on June 18. 

Long-term care homes that are not in an outbreak — defined as any more than a single case — will allow one visitor per resident, once a week in an outdoor setting. 

"We need families to be able to see their loved ones and today we're taking the first steps to help reunite families, to help reunite loved ones in the safest way possible," said Ford at Thursday's news conference.

Retirement homes will be able to resume indoor and outdoor visits in resident units or designated areas, while other residential care settings will allow outdoor visits of two people at a time as long as physical distancing can be maintained.

Minster of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton announced a "responsible" plan to allow visitors into long-term care and retirement homes during the provinces' daily briefing on Thursday. 1:34

This new measure comes with many strict conditions for visitors. All visitors must have tested negative for the novel coronavirus in the past two weeks, complete a health questionnaire, and during the visit, must wear a face mask or covering, maintain a safe physical distance, and wash or disinfect their hands.

All congregate care homes also need to meet strict conditions before welcoming visitors. In addition to not being in an outbreak, homes must have an established process for communicating safety protocol and procedures to visitors and maintain strict infection prevention and control measures.

"I know this is a day we have all been desperately waiting for but we can't take this progress for granted," said Ford.

"I ask everyone to be cautious and act responsibility as the battle to contain COVID-19 is not over and the risk to our loved ones still remains.

Other residential care homes that will be allowed visitors under similar rules include homes serving people with developmental disabilities, shelters for survivors of gender-based violence, and children's residential settings. 

Meanwhile, Ontario public health officials have tracked COVID-19 outbreaks in a total of 316 long-term care facilities, though 77 remain active.

203 new cases

Ontario reported 203 additional cases of COVID-19 and a record number of tests completed on Thursday, on the eve of much of the province moving into the next phase of reopening.

The newly confirmed infections mark the fewest seen on a single day since March 28 and just a 0.6 per cent increase in total cases.

More than 82 per cent, or some 25,885, of Ontario's cumulative cases are resolved. There were twice as many recoveries, 505, than additional confirmed infections reported yesterday.

The province's network of labs processed 24,341 tests, nearly reaching the system's capacity of 25,000 on any given day. Another 16, 359 are in the queue waiting to be processed.

Further, there are currently 3,172 active cases in the province, the fewest since new daily cases started to rise again in mid-May. 

Some 78 per cent of Ontario's active cases are concentrated in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), while another 12 per cent are in other regions not moving forward into the next stage of reopening tomorrow. 

Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said during a COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, that the regions not moving forward to Stage 2 will be assessed on a weekly basis.

"Some of [the regions] that are in Stage 1, held back for the week, will be considered to move up to Stage 2 depending on how their data moves and shifts," Williams said.

Any changes to the status of the regions still in Stage 1 will be announced on Monday, with the changes taking effect the following Friday. 

"We'd rather go stalwartly forward, rather than jumping forward [and] going back," he said.

Meanwhile, the number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to drop, falling by 42 down to 538 — the fewest since April 5.

The number of those being treated in intensive care units and with ventilators both remained relatively steady at 120 and 87, respectively.

Ontario's official death toll grew by 12 to 2,487. It's the third straight day that the official count has increased by fewer than 15 deaths. A CBC News count based on data compiled directly from regional public health units, however, puts the real current death toll at 2,543.

Nearly 79 per cent of all deaths in the province were residents of long-term care homes.

Michael Ford hospitalized with COVID-19

Meanwhile, Toronto city councillor Michael Ford has been hospitalized with COVID-19, his office confirmed on Thursday evening. 

Ford, who represents Ward 1, Etobicoke North and is the nephew of the premier, confirmed he had tested positive for the virus in a statement on Tuesday night

"The hospital continues to monitor his status, but overall, he is feeling well," said Nicolas Di Marco, a spokesperson for the city councillor. 

Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott both tested negative for COVID-19, the premier's office said Thursday.

The pair underwent testing "out of an abundance of caution" yesterday afternoon after being in close contact with Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who himself tested negative for the virus.

Lecce had an assessment completed in Toronto after learning he had recently been in contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19. In a statement, a spokesperson for Lecce's office said that he will remain in isolation for two weeks from the time of exposure, June 6 to June 20, and monitor for any potential symptoms.

"To be clear, both Premier Ford and Minister Elliott have had no known contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and as a result, there is no need for either of them to self-isolate," said Ivana Yelich, spokesperson for Ford's office, in an email.

Ontario appoints new patient ombudsman

Meanwhile, the provincial government announced today that it has appointed a new patient ombudsman.

The role sat vacant for two years after Elliott, who was appointed to the position by the previous Liberal government, resigned in 2018 to run in the Progressive Conservative leadership race. The office continued to operate, however.

Cathy Fooks will step into the job effective July 13, the province said. Fooks has been the president and CEO of The Change Foundation, an independent health policy think tank based in Toronto, since 2007. Before that, she served as executive director of the now-defunct Health Council of Canada, a public reporting agency focused on health-care reform.

Her term as patient ombudsman will last five years, though the government can renew after that period.

Fooks will oversee an investigation into the experiences of patients and caregivers in Ontario's long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation was announced by the Patient Ombudsman's office on June 2.

New transit guidelines

Ontario is recommending passengers wear face coverings or non-medical masks on public transit to fight the spread of COVID-19.

It also urges commuters to practice physical distancing and hand washing, and the installation of barriers between drivers and passengers along with frequent cleanings.

The Toronto Transit Commission, for example, is making face coverings mandatory on its public transit system, a rule that could go into effect starting July 2.

The face-covering recommendation comes as the province releases safety guidance to transit agencies as the economy reopens and people return to work.

Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney says the guidelines were designed in consultation with health and transit authorities.

Ontario lifts 30-day supply limit on prescriptions

The Ontario government is scrapping its 30-day supply limit on prescriptions, according to a statement released Thursday evening.

Starting June 15, recipients of Ontario's drug benefit program can return to filling up to 100 days worth of supply at one time from their pharmacy or dispensing physician.

The limit was brought in by the Ontario government in the early days of the pandemic to protect the province's supply of drugs. 

"The restriction on the supply of medications was critical to prevent drug shortages due to increased demand and stockpiling at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak," Elliott said in the statement.

"With the supply of medications stabilizing, people can safely go back to getting their regular prescriptions filled."

With files from Lucas Powers, Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press

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