Ontario COVID-19 cases near 2,000 as schools set to stay closed until at least May

The tally includes 33 deaths and 534 cases that are considered resolved. Some 4,280 people are awaiting test results, while a total of 51,629 tests have been approved.

Ontario public health officials expect cases, hospitalizations to rise in coming days

Doug Ford and Stephen Lecce
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce are scheduled to make an announcement this afternoon. Schools in the province have been closed since the week of March Break. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Ontario confirmed 260 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the provincial total to 1,966 as families learn that students won't be going back to class until at least May.

The tally includes 33 deaths and 534 cases that are considered resolved.

A total of 291 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, including 125 in intensive care units, 82 of whom are on ventilators.

An additional 4,280 people are awaiting test results, while a total of 51,629 tests have been approved.

The province has also offered this breakdown of the total cases since Jan. 15, 2020:

  • 49.8 per cent are male, while 49.5 per cent are female.
  • The median age is 50, ranging in age from less than one to 100 years of age.
  • Greater Toronto Area public health units account for 59.1 per cent of cases in Ontario.
  • 25.7 per cent had travelled in the 14 days prior to becoming ill. 
  • 10.2 per cent had close contact with a confirmed case.
  • 16.8 per cent neither travelled or had closed contact
  • 47.3 per cent of cases have exposure information pending.
  • 10.9 per cent of cases were hospitalized.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said on Tuesday that Ontario's recent spike in cases is likely due to the large number of travellers who returned during the week of March Break.

The incubation period for COVID-19 and delays in testing means those patients are typically reflected in official counts about two weeks after a person becomes infected.

"We'll expect the number of hospitalizations and ventilators to increase accordingly in the days to come," he said.

Health officials also warned Toronto-area residents to avoid staying at their cottages while physical distancing is enforced.

Williams said communities in cottage country are seasonal, meaning they may not have enough supplies or healthcare resources to accommodate a large influx of people during what would normally be the off-season.

"You have to understand that puts unprecedented load on those communities," he said.

The province is also monitoring COVID-19 outbreaks at 10 long-term care facilities.

However, Williams said personal support workers at long-term care facilities do not need to wear protective equipment unless their location is the site of an outbreak.

One Ontario nursing home ravaged by an outbreak of COVID-19 confirmed Tuesday that three more residents have died there, bringing the total number of resident deaths to 12. A volunteer who visited her husband at the home has also died.

More than a third of the staff at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon — 24 people — have tested positive for the virus, and test results for 10 other staff members are pending, according to the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.

Ford 'prepared to extend' school closures

Ontario Premier Doug Ford confirmed Tuesday afternoon that public schools will remain closed for at least another month.

He said schools can reopen to teachers on May 1 at the earliest, and to students on May 4.

"In order to protect our children, I'm prepared to extend these closures even further if we have to," Ford said.

Publicly-funded schools have been closed since March 14 on a ministerial order from Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Private schools were also closed a few days later as part of the province's emergency declaration. That order has also been extended by another two weeks.

Schools were initially set to re-open on April 6, but both Premier Doug Ford and Lecce conceded that the closures would need to be prolonged as the number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario continues to increase. 

The government has been looking at ways to keep course work going while school closures continue, including through online classes.

Some boards ready to launch teacher-led e-learning

Major school boards in the Greater Toronto Area recently notified parents that plans to resume teacher-directed, online learning after April 6 are nearly in place.

"We have been working around the clock to ensure that as many students as possible have the opportunity to resume learning remotely next week," said John Malloy, director of education for the Toronto District School Board, in an email to families.  

Similarly, the Peel District School Board said it has been "busy developing new ways to deliver curriculum, as well as ways to provide equitable access to learning and support.

"We appreciate that we may experience some turbulence upon take-off, but we hope to be able to reach and support every learner in the days ahead," said Peter Joshua, director of education at the board, in a statement.

It goes on to say that the board is "working to ensure that our use of online learning environments will not widen the divide between privileged and underserved students, and that alternate learning strategies will be available."

Changes for post-secondary students

This morning, the province said it would be temporarily deferring Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loans for six months, interest free, until Sept. 30, 2020. 

"During this unprecedented period, it is important to help students and current borrowers, so students can continue with their studies and borrowers do not have to worry about making loan payments," Ford said in a statement.

Further, end-of-year exams at publicly-assisted post-secondary institutions will be made available online "while preserving student privacy and the integrity of academic assessment."

An additional $25 million in public funds will also go colleges, universities and Indigenous institutes to help cover unforeseen costs from the COVID-19 outbreak, including:

  • Deep cleaning.
  • Medical supplies.
  • Mental health supports.

Ontario nearing 2,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases

Ontario currently has 1,966 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 33 deaths.

Late last night, the provincial government issued an order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to close "all communal or shared, public or private, outdoor recreational amenities" in Ontario. The measure covers everything from beaches to playgrounds and off-leash dog parks.

Additionally, the province's top public health officer is now urging anyone over the age of 70 to stay home except for essential trips.

Meanwhile, Ford said Ontario could face a shortage of key medical supplies if the COVID-19 pandemic causes a massive wave of hospitalizations in the next two weeks.

He said the government is working to make sure more masks and other protective equipment are available for frontline workers.

Ford said that residents should do everything possible to slow the spread of the illness and that he's willing to consider stronger measures to ensure physical distancing if public health officials say they're necessary.

Outbreak declared at Mississauga hospital

Trillium Health Partners has declared an outbreak at Credit Valley Hospital site after four patients in one unit tested positive for the virus. The four patients are being relocated to another unit dedicated to the care of COVID-19 patients, the hospital said in a news release on Tuesday.

Trillium Health Partners said it has identified anyone who may have been exposed, it is monitoring the other patients in the unit and it is taking steps to protect patients and staff by working with Peel Public Health.

"Our top priority is the safety of patients, our health care workers and the community," the hospital said in the release.

Peel Region reports 1st death from virus

Peel Public Health is reporting its first death from the virus. A Brampton man in his 70s, who had underlying health conditions, died at Brampton Civic Hospital. The case was previously counted by Ontario provincial health officials as a positive case.

Mayor Patrick Brown said the man was tested for the virus on March 25 and died the next day. Peel Public Health received his test results on Tuesday and are tracing close contacts.

"While this milestone may have been anticipated, the loss of one of our community members is hard, especially under these difficult circumstances. On behalf of the City of Brampton, I want to extend our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones during this difficult time," Brown said.

TTC asks riders to delay transit use

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is asking its riders to avoid nine bus routes it has deemed "very busy" during the morning rush hour. 

"Unless your trip is essential, please consider travelling after 7:30 a.m. to encourage physical distancing," said the TTC in a statement on its website.

The recommendations apply to the following routes:

  • 123 Sherway.
  • 44 Kipling South.
  • 102 Markham Road.
  • 119 Torbarrie.
  • 41 Keele.
  • 35 Jane.
  • 96 Wison.
  • 165 Weston Rd North.
  • 117 Alness-Chesswood.

However, social media users say other bus routes, including the 29 Dufferin, have also been overcrowded during morning commutes.

"If a bus or streetcar is crowded, please wait for the next one. We are still operating plenty of service so the wait shouldn't be long," reads another reminder on the TTC's website.

5 Toronto police test positive

A spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service says that five officers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

They include:

  • One officer from headquarters.
  • Three officers from 14 Division.
  • One from 23 Division.

"In every case, we work with public health authorities who conduct an in-depth investigation related to each member and their contacts," said Meaghan Gray in an email. 

Police have instructed more than 500 members of the service to go into self-isolation since the positive tests were recorded.

2 LCBO workers test positive

The LBCO says two employees in at two Toronto locations have tested positive for the virus.

One employee worked at the St. Lawrence Market location, 87 Front St. E., and the person's last shift was on Sunday, March 15. The store closed for deep cleaning on Monday and reopened on Tuesday.

The other employee worked at the Allen Road and Rimrock Road location, 1115 Lodestar Rd., the person's last shift was on Friday, March 20, and the store was closed for deep cleaning.

"We will work with public health officials to determine any employees with close contact with this team member and will support any additional employees who need to self-isolate," the LCBO said of the second location.

With files from Lisa Xing