Ontario reports 356 new COVID-19 cases, as province gives green light to resume short-term rentals

Lodges, cabins, cottages, homes, condominiums and bed and breakfasts will be able to resume short-term rentals as of June 5, the province said Thursday.

Meanwhile, province's network of labs processed record number of tests yesterday

Condominiums are among short-term rentals that have been granted approval by the province to resume operations as of June 5. (CBC)

Ontario reported 356 additional cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as the province announced that short-term rentals will be allowed to resume operations on Friday. 

The move applies to lodges, cabins, cottages, homes, condominiums and bed and breakfasts, Julie O'Driscoll, spokesperson for Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, told CBC Toronto Thursday. 

"As you know, many people rely on the rental of these properties to supplement their income, and owners should consult health and safety guidelines related to the tourism and hospitality sector when considering how they can reopen their doors to guests," O'Driscoll said in an email. 

"Operators and guests should continue to practice physical distancing, wear a face covering when physical distancing is a challenge, and wash hands frequently." 

This follows actions to slowly reopen businesses and resume activities across the province. 

Meanwhile, the 1.2 per cent jump in cases brings the total in Ontario since the outbreak began in late January to 29,403. Of those, just short of 79 per cent are now resolved.

The province says it processed 20, 822 test samples yesterday, more than on any other single day. The figure still falls short of total capacity, however, which currently stands at about 25,000, according to the Ministry of Health.

Some 12,760 test samples are currently waiting to be processed.

Ontario's official COVID-19 death toll jumped by 45, up to 2,357, after five straight days of increases of less than 20. Thirty-seven of the new deaths occurred in Toronto. Data compiled directly from regional public health units, however, puts the real current toll at 2,376 as of yesterday evening.

About 80 per cent of those deaths were residents in long-term care homes. The ministry says it has tracked outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in a total of 309 of the province's 630 long-term care facilities. There are now 89 active outbreaks, the fewest since mid-April.

There are 776 patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19, a decrease of 15 since the last update and the fewest since April 14. The number of patients being treated in intensive care units also decreased, by six down to 121. Those requiring a ventilator went up slightly, to 94 from 92.

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA), meanwhile, continues to account for the majority of new cases. 

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said Thursday that GTA public health units account for about 66 per cent of the province's total. 

"The GTA focus is becoming stronger," Williams said. 

Many other health units across the province, "14 or 15" in total, Williams said, recorded no new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.

Niagara region and southwestern Ontario, however, are seeing spikes in cases due to outbreaks among agricultural workers. 

But despite a steady count of daily new cases, the province continues to move toward the implementation of its second phase of reopening. 

Williams said the province is being "cautious" — moving "steadfastly" in its plan to reopen — while remaining aware of a regional difference in new cases. 

And as the province's number of daily tests increases, while the correlated percentage of positive cases drops, Williams said health officials are becoming increasingly confident in moving forward with the reopening. 

Ontario allocates $1.5M to black families and youth 

The province, meanwhile, announced that it is launching the Premier's Council on Equality of Opportunity, a new advisory group that will help young people "overcome social and economic barriers and achieve success," according to a press release issued Thursday. 

Details were provided by Premier Doug Ford at the province's daily briefing on Thursday, as well as Minister of Health, Todd Smith, and Jamil Jivani, Ontario's Advocate for Community Opportunities.

At a press conference on Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced additional funding for black families and youth across the province. (Steve Russell/The Canadian Press)

"At a time when the world is facing some of its most difficult challenges, we have to do everything we can to help our next generation of leaders overcome the social and economic barriers before them," Ford said in the statement. 

The council will have up to 20 members, including a chair and a vice-chair, and will include members between the ages of 18 to 29. 

Jivani, who will serve as chair of the council for the first year, said the council will work to help give disadvantaged youth a "fair chance to succeed in Ontario's workforce." 

"For decades, youth from disadvantaged communities have faced barriers to succeeding in our economy. COVID-19 has made these issues worse," he said. 

Jivani said black communities across the province are "saddened and outraged" by events transpiring in the U.S., specifically the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 in police custody.

"We understand our responsibility as more than just to talk, but to act," he said. 

The Ontario government is doing that, Jivani said, by allocating $1.5 million in funding to organizations that support black families and youth.

"That pain has not gone unnoticed," he said, adding that the plan has been in place for months. 

Ex-Liberal MP to advise on COVID-19 data collection

Meanwhile, former Liberal cabinet minister and physician Jane Philpott has been appointed to help Ontario improve its COVID-19-related data collection.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said that Philpott will be a special advisor on the Ontario Health Data Platform, an initiative first announced by the government in April. During her time as an MP for Markham–Stouffville, Philpott served as the federal minister of health, Minister of Indigenous Services and President of the Treasury Board. 

According to the province, the platform will provide anonymized health information to public health units, hospitals and researchers to assist their decision making.

Jane Philpott represented the riding of Markham-Stouffville during her time as a federal MP. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In a video message posted online,  Elliott and Philpott said it will allow Ontario's fragmented health-care system better detect and respond to the novel coronavirus by helping to identify especially vulnerable populations, predict when and where outbreaks may happen and track the effectiveness of treatments and preventative measures.

Ontario's Privacy Commissioner will also be involved in the development and implementation of the platform. 

Philpott, a family doctor who was ejected from the Liberal caucus in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, will also chair a ministers round table on the response to COVID-19. The round table will include representatives working in public health, medical research and privacy and clinical experts.

Throughout the pandemic, some infectious disease experts have criticized Ontario's health data collection as outdated, inconsistent and opaque. The result has been a conspicuous lack of important information to help guide the frontline response to COVID-19, they said.

In a news release, the province said that medical professionals and researchers will be able to access the data platform in July. 

With files from Lucas Powers and Mike Crawley