Toronto

Ford blames local health leaders for COVID-19 testing drop

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 increased considerably, up to 1,043 from 984.

COVID-19 tests processed drop back down to 10,654 after 5 straight days of 14,000 or more

About 16 per cent of Ontario's more than 18,000 COVID-19 cases are health-care workers. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Premier Doug Ford slammed some of the province's medical officers of health Tuesday, saying they aren't getting enough COVID-19 tests done in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

At his daily briefing, Ford expressed frustration with some of the top doctors who he said are not ordering enough testing in their regions.

"Some just aren't performing. I'm calling them out right now. You've got to pick up the pace," Ford said. "We need to hold these people accountable."

"I'm not going to name them. They know who they are."

The premier's office later explained the premier was referring to testing at long-term care homes specifically, saying provincial public health units are only in charge of testing at those facilities and have been given the tools they need to increase testing.

"Public health units are only in charge of testing LTC homes. We have been clear that testing residents and staff at LTC homes is a priority for the province, which is why the Premier was expressing his frustration that some public health units are outperforming others by a wide margin," said spokesperson Ivana Yelich. 

"The province enables through guidelines, public health units implement." 

Watch: Ford blasts local health leaders over COVID-19 testing

Premier unhappy as Ontario's testing numbers take a dramatic drop amid pandemic 1:16

After several consecutive days of the province meeting or exceeding its 14,000 tests processed per day target, only 10,654 were completed in the last 24 hours. It is the lowest total in five days. The backlog of tests waiting to be processed stayed at over 6,000.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, told reporters at a later news conference that testing is a provincial responsibility.

De Villa said local health units are just stepping up to help during the pandemic under provincial guidelines.

"We are doing everything we can to make sure that this is done in a timely and effective manner," De Villa said in response to a question about Ford's comments.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer, said last week that a network of public, community and hospital labs now has the capacity to process up to 19,525 per day. 

Opposition says blame lies with government

At a news conference Tuesday, Williams told reporters many factors go into testing numbers and that his department is following up with local health units to determine what's behind the low number — whether it's an issue of lacking supplies, human resources, data not being entered speedily or another problem.

"We don't need excuses ... we need solutions," Williams said.

Experts say ramping up testing will be key to containing the virus and lifting strict public health measures put in place to slow its spread. 

Ontario had been testing well below its capacity, and earlier this month Ford called for that to be ramped up.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she was shocked by Ford's comments and the blame for the testing inconsistencies lies with his government.

Ford "determines how many public health units and labs we have, and how much funding they get, and he's the one that spent the last year battling these organizations to make cuts to them," she said.

"The buck stops with Mr. Ford."

Ontario reported an additional 387 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday as the number of patients hospitalized by the illness jumped considerably and deaths in long-term care homes pushed past 1,000.

Tuesday marks the third consecutive day of downward trending numbers after Saturday's spike of over 500, Williams said. 

The new cases represent a 2.2 per cent increase, a figure on par with those observed over the last week. The cumulative case count in Ontario since the outbreak began in late January is now 18,310 — though nearly 70 per cent are now considered resolved.

Most deaths attributed to long-term care

About 16 per cent of all cases, or some 2,892, are health-care workers, according to the Ministry of Health. 

The official COVID-19 death toll sits at 1,361, an increase of 61 since yesterday. However data compiled from regional public health units by CBC shows the actual death toll to be at least 1,485.

Nearly three-quarters, or 1,003, of those deaths were residents in long-term care homes. The province says it is currently tracking outbreaks in 218 long-term care facilities, six more than in its last update. 

SEIU Healthcare, which represents over 60,000 frontline healthcare workers in Ontario, is now calling on the province and local police forces to launch a public inquiry and criminal investigations into COVID-19 related deaths in long-term care.

Ford said Tuesday that his government is doing "everything" in its power to help long-term care homes. "We're pulling out all stops on this," he said.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government is focusing all of its efforts on supporting those homes, and noted a number of steps the government has taken.

"We will continue to take those steps until these outbreaks are under control," she said.

Ford hoping for eased restrictions on long weekend

The premier also reiterated his hope that by the Victoria Day long weekend, people will be able to head to their cottages — if case counts in the province continue to drop.

"Three weeks down the road, hopefully the numbers will be down," he said.

Ford also said he recognized it's "not fair" for some Ontarians to be able to escape cities for green space while others are holed up in small apartment buildings. He said, by the long weekend, more people will be allowed to go outside.

"We'll have some good announcements going forward this week," he said.

Hospitalizations in Ontario have increased by 59, up to 1,043 from 984. The number of patients being treated in intensive care units dropped slightly, from 225 down to 223. Of those, 166 are on ventilators, the Ministry of Health says, a decrease of nine since yesterday.

Williams has repeatedly said that hospitalization rates will be a key consideration in how soon the province can begin to ease emergency measures put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Ford said this week that retailers and other businesses should start preparing to reopen their doors, even if they don't yet have a date for resuming business.

He called the province's recent COVID-19 case numbers "encouraging," and  said that if they continue their downward trend, parks and stores could reopen sooner than later.

Ford asked that businesses start preparing their supplies of masks and taking other steps needed to reopen in advance of a greenlight to reopen from public health officials. 

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