Ontario to maintain group size restrictions amid rising COVID-19 cases, crowded parks
Total cases since outbreak began now approaching 26,000
A recent uptick in positive cases and large group gatherings means Ontario will maintain some COVID-19 restrictions longer than initially planned.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province had been considering allowing groups of more than five people to gather in the near future, but those plans have temporarily been put aside.
"It is something that will be coming forward, but it has been pushed back a little bit," Elliott said.
Ontario has prohibited gatherings of more than five people, unless they live together, since March 28.
Elliott specifically mentioned the scene at Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park, where large crowds gathered on Saturday, as one of the reasons behind the decision to maintain limits on group sizes.
She said the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams "is reluctant to move forward with that right away, because there's a concern about people creating groups that are too large."
WATCH: Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott explains the decision to maintain gathering restrictions
Ontario reported 404 additional cases of COVID-19 on Monday, a 1.6 per cent jump that continues an upward trend of new daily cases that began about two weeks ago.
The new cases bring the total number of confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began in January to nearly 26,000. Of those, 76 per cent are resolved.
The number of active cases in the province has risen by about 20 per cent in the last week, and is now more than 4,100.
Ontario's network of labs processed just 8,170 tests since the last update, far below its benchmark of 16,000 per day and nowhere near the almost 20,000 tests it has the capacity to handle on any given day. The backlog of tests waiting to be processed sits at 3,883.
The figure comes after Ontario said it would be expanding its novel coronavirus testing guidelines yet again over the weekend. At a news conference Sunday, Premier Doug Ford said anyone who feels they need a test will be able to get it at one of the province's 129 COVID-19 assessment centres, even if they are asymptomatic.
A memo from the Ministry of Health, however, raised questions about whether that is indeed the case. The memo, circulated Sunday, suggests that contact with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 is among the requirements for a test to proceed. It did not specify what level of confirmation of a person's contact with a confirmed or suspected case would be necessary for a test to be administered.
The new testing guidelines are expected to be released in full sometime this week.
Premier, public health officials differ on testing advice
Ford repeated his plea for more Ontarians to get tested during his Monday COVID-19 news conference. He too singled out people who visited Trinity Bellwoods Park this weekend.
"I'm disappointed, to say the least, with everyone who showed up at Trinity Bellwoods on Saturday," Ford said.
"Why don't you do us all a favour and get tested now," he said.
However, the province's top public health advisers contradicted the premier's advice during their own daily briefing on Monday.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, said people who were at Trinity Bellwoods Park this weekend should instead self-monitor for 14 days and try to avoid contact with vulnerable people such as seniors and young children.
Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa also advised park-goers to self-monitor rather than to go for immediate testing.
The provincial government has faced criticism for its public messaging during the COVID-19 outbreak, with Ontario's top doctor even acknowledging last week that it has been inconsistent at times.
Ontario's official death toll from the illness grew by 29 yesterday and is now 2,102, though the real current death toll, compiled from data provided directly by regional public health units, is at least 2,194. More than 75 per cent of total deaths in the province were residents of long-term care homes.
Further, there are now 859 patients in Ontario hospitals with a confirmed case of COVID-19 — the fewest in more than a month. Fluctuations in hospitalizations generally follow new case numbers by two to three weeks, meaning that the current situation could reflect a drop in new daily cases observed in early May.
Call to end commercial evictions
Meanwhile, five business groups are calling on the provincial government to impose a commercial eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The groups made the request in an open letter to Ford Monday, saying urgent help is needed as the due date for June rent approaches.
The groups include the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, Restaurants Canada and the Retail Council of Canada.
They say some landlords are not applying for a joint rent relief program from the federal and provincial governments.
When asked about the issue on Monday, Ford put the onus on landlords to apply for the program and do their best to help tenants.
"I'm begging you, landlords, please sign up," Ford said.
To landlords who do not apply for the program, Ford said "there will be consequences, simple as that," though he did not say what kind of punishment might apply.
Ford had previously declined to freeze commercial evictions, instead pleading with what he's called "vicious" landlords to be flexible with business tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He has said there could be legal implications if the government wades into long-term lease contracts.
With files from The Canadian Press and Mike Crawley