Ontario confirms 379 new COVID-19 cases as testing declines, protective equipment shortage persists
Meanwhile, cannabis stores will partially resume business following emergency order
The province reported another 379 cases of COVID-19 Tuesday but saw a continued decline in testing since the start of the month, with a drop from 6,200 test results on April 1 to just 2,568 today.
The province's total number of confirmed cases is now 4,726. The official tally includes 153 deaths, though CBC News has compiled data from local health units and counted at least 193 deaths throughout the province.
Of those confirmed cases, 1,802 are considered resolved.
More than 500 health-care workers in the province have tested positive, representing about 11 per cent of all of the confirmed cases in Ontario. Another 691 people are awaiting test results.
The number of tests Ontario has completed daily has dropped steadily over the past week — a worrying trend, according to doctors who argue that widespread testing is the only way to get an accurate picture of the spread of COVID-19 and a crucial tool to make sure those who are infected don't transmit the virus further.
The number of tests "is definitely not the curve we want to see flattening," tweeted Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa.
Province not trying to limit tests, health officials say
The province's Ministry of Health had targeted conducting 5,000 tests per day by the end of March, increasing weekly to reach a goal peak of 19,000 tests per day by the third week of April.
Ontario now has the lab capacity to run 13,000 tests per day but the province's COVID-19 assessment centres are only submitting about 3,500 tests daily, said Hayley Chazan, director of media relations for Health Minister Christine Elliott in an email.
"This surplus in capacity means that we can now look at testing more people, particularly priority populations, including health care staff, residents and staff in long-term care and retirement homes and Indigenous communities," wrote Chazan.
"We expect to have more to say about a new testing strategy that makes full use of this capacity shortly."
Ontario has administered a total of 81,364 tests, more than any other province, said Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health.
Williams said testing centres aren't at capacity, and urged anyone with symptoms, or who may have been exposed to someone with the virus, to get tested.
"We have been encouraging people with any of those [symptoms] to go forward and get assessed ... We aren't trying to limit that."
51 outbreaks at long-term care homes, 3 more at Ontario jails
Of the 614 total current cases that have required hospitalization:
- 233 are in intensive care units.
- 187 are on a ventilator.
There have been a total of 51 outbreaks at long-term care homes in Ontario.
Markhaven Home for Seniors, a long-term care home in Markham, Ont. confirmed on Tuesday that two more deaths related to COVID-19 have occurred at its facility, bringing its total deaths to six.
Meanwhile, the province confirmed that three Ontario jails experienced outbreaks between March 20 and March 27:
- One inmate tested positive at Monteith Correctional Complex.
- Three inmates and one staff member testes positive at Toronto South Detention Centre.
- One staff member tested positive at Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre.
One outside contractor also tested positive at South West Detention Centre.
Another five inmates at Grand Valley Institution for Women, Canada's largest prison for women, also tested positive for the virus last week.
There have also been 15 COVID-19 outbreaks reported in hospital settings.
Cannabis stores to partially resume business
Ontario passed an emergency order to temporarily allow legal cannabis retails to reopen, according to Jenessa Crognali, spokesperson for the province's attorney general Doug Downey.
Last week, cannabis stores were forced to close after being taken off the province's list of essential businesses.
Under the emergency order, the shops can now offer curbside delivery and pickup service.
Maple Leaf Foods employees in Hamilton, Brampton test positive
Workers at Maple Leaf Foods plants in Hamilton and Brampton have also tested positive for COVID-19, the company said in a news release on Tuesday.
"We informed all of our employees the same day we learned of the positive test results," the release read. "These cases are the first two to occur among Maple Leaf Foods' 13,000 employees."
The company said infected staff, one at each plant, are staying at home and anyone who was in contact with them has been directed to self-quarantine for two weeks.
First Ontario-produced masks ready for use, Ford says
Ford announced that the first made-in-Ontario face masks are ready, one day after he warned that the province would run out of personal protective equipment in one week.
Ford was at Woodbridge's manufacturing facility in Vaughan Tuesday where the first 1,000 Level 3 masks have been produced.
The company hopes to eventually produce one million a week and have them certified as N95 masks to be used in all health-care settings.
Meanwhile, a shipment of badly needed medical masks is expected Tuesday.
At a news conference Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford called the news from 3M about the deal it reached to continue supplying masks a welcome one, after U.S. President Donald Trump earlier tried to compel the company to halt distribution outside that country.
But Ford also said, "There's still a lot of work to be done to secure enough PPE for the province of Ontario."
Ford has said the province is still facing a major shortage of key supplies and could be out of masks in less than two weeks, even with the new shipment.
The premier said Monday a shipment of about 500,000 masks had been held up at the Canada -U.S. border, but was expected in the province by the end of the day. For now, domestic supply is ramping-up and the first made-in-Ontario face masks are ready for use.
Ford said Tuesday that Ontarians cannot solely rely on the global supply chain, adding "we need the federal government to come through" on its supply, at the same time underscoring the need for the province to produce its own supplies.
Faulty masks recalled
Meanwhile, the City of Toronto is recalling thousands of poorly-made surgical masks that were given to front-line workers.
In a news release on Tuesday, the city said a recently-purchased order of 4,000 boxes containing 50 masks each — equivalent to more than $200,000 — do not meet "specifications the city requires for such masks."
Some 62,600 masks had already been distributed to long-term care homes on March 28. The city is now investigating to determine how many employees were caring for patients while wearing the masks and whether there was possible exposure to COVID-19.
Williams said all shipments of masks should be inspected to ensure they are up to par with the province's requirements.
"We have to investigate to see how it got into the field," he said Tuesday.
New online portal matches skilled workers with employers
Ford also announced the launch of a new online portal to match skilled front-line workers with employers who need positions filled.
"Join the fight today, because we need every person in Ontario in this fight," Ford said.
"We need an army of 14.5 million people...Whether it's staying home, working in our hospitals or long-term care homes, or putting food and medicine on our shelves, we're all part of this and with your help we will win this battle and our province and our economy will come back stronger than ever before."
The province says the Health Workforce Matching Portal will allow health-care providers with a range of experiences —including retired or non-active health-care professionals, internationally-educated health-care professionals, students, and volunteers with health care experience — to join in the province's fight against COVID-19.
"The portal will match the availability and skill sets of frontline health care workers to the employers in need of assistance to perform a variety of public health functions, such as case and contact management," the province said in a news release.
Asked to what extent the new measures will include internationally-trained professionals, Health Minister Christine Elliott said those people may or may not be called on specifically to practice medicine depending on their skills, but that the province needs "all hands on deck."
The sort of experience gained during COVID-19 will be important in helping internationally-trained professionals obtain their Ontario credentials, Elliot said. But as for whether any long-term changes could be coming to the credentializing process, she said: "That's something we will have to take a look at once we're through this."
Elliott said foreign credentials may not be immediately and fully recognized.
"What we're trying to do is match the employer's needs with the skill set of the person that's coming forward," she said.
"They may or may not, depending on their skill sets, their experience and so on, be able to practise medicine, but they
certainly will have a place in our health-care system."
The jobs will come with pay, Elliott confirmed.
Warnings for first responders
Ontario's first responders will now be warned before they go to a site where they will come into contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Health Minister Elliott says the alerts will ensure the health of those working on the front lines.
The information disclosed will be limited to the person's name, address, date of birth and whether the individual has had a positive test result.
Layoffs at the ROM
The Royal Ontario Museum is temporarily laying off some employees, while others — including executives — are taking a 20 per cent pay cut amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
In a memo sent to staff, ROM director and CEO Josh Basseches said that the institution will likely not reopen to the public until the end of June, or possibly later.
The museum will continue to pay full and part-time staff through April 10.
Donation bins overflowing
With donation bins overflowing and in some cases surrounded by illegally dumped garbage, Diabetes Canada has issued an open letter to community leaders and elected officials to help raise awareness about the issue.
The association, which stopped donation pickups on March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said the bin situation is "posing a serious health and safety issue."
The city of Toronto said its solid waste management services workers have launched a blitz to collect items dumped at overflowing clothing drop boxes to clean up the mess.
Meanwhile, Ford made what for many little Ontarians will be a highly anticipated add to the list of essential workers in the province: the Easter Bunny.
The bunny will be expected to comply with all existing orders. He is authorized to deliver chocolate, candy and other treats, but cannot do so in parks, playgrounds or any other outdoor areas where Ontario has prohibited groups from gathering.
With files from Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press