Ontario reports 399 new COVID-19 cases as number of patients on ventilators drops
Province releases framework to resume scheduled surgeries after they were halted in March
Ontario confirmed 399 additional cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a 2.1 per cent jump that pushes the province's total since the outbreak began to more than 19,000.
The growth rate in new cases is on par with those observed over the last week. A full 71 per cent of all cases are now resolved, according to the Ministry of Health.
The official death count sits at 1,477, an increase of 48 from the last update. Data reported directly from regional public health units, however, puts the actual death toll at at least 1,593.
About three quarters of total deaths were residents in long-term care homes. Public health authorities have tracked outbreaks in 225 of Ontario's 630 long-term care facilities.
The province's networks of labs processed 15,179 tests in the last 24 hours, more than any of the three days previous but still short of the 16,000 tests per day target set back in April.
Notably, the backlog of tests waiting to be processed grew to 13,012, up from 8,790 yesterday. That increase comes days after Premier Doug Ford criticized some regional public health units for not testing enough residents and staff in long-term care homes.
The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals and intensive care units remained steady, with just one new case in each category. But the number of infected people requiring a ventilator dropped considerably, to 155 from 174.
One of Ontario's hardest-hit long-term care homes, Madonna Care Community in Ottawa, also confirmed the death of a personal support worker Thursday.
The facility has recorded 29 resident deaths during its outbreak. The man is the first long-term care worker to die of COVID-19 in the Ottawa region.
Meanwhile, a union with hundreds of thousands of members across Canada announced Thursday that a 61-year-old personal support worker in Toronto has died after contracting COVID-19.
Unifor, which represents some 315,000 workers across across the country, told CBC Toronto that the deceased employee worked at a supportive housing unit near Keele Street and Eglinton Avenue West.
So far, five PSWs have died of the novel coronavirus in Ontario.
Here's the province's plan to resume scheduled surgeries
The Ministry of Health detailed Thursday its plan to resume scheduled surgeries that were postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The process will be managed at the regional level, with individual hospitals doing feasibility studies in conjunction with the various COVID-19 task forces that oversee hospital networks. Both hospitals and the regional task forces will need to sign off before procedures can resume.
The criteria for a hospital to restart surgeries include:
- A 30-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).
- A stable supply of medications.
- At least 15 per cent capacity of acute care beds, but that capacity can be at a regional level as opposed to in a single hospital.
- Availability of post-surgery care, including home care and physical rehabilitation.
- A waitlist management system to ensure an "ethical prioritization" of operations.
Ministry officials said during a technical briefing that a key component of the plan will be ensuring that physicians and nurses who were reassigned to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic are brought back into hospitals in a responsible way. The ultimate goal is to avoid any unintended consequences, officials said, like leaving long-term care facilities understaffed as subsequent waves of COVID-19 hit the health-care system.
The ministry could not say when they expect scheduled surgeries to actually restart. Hospitals will be receiving the framework today and it will largely happen on a case-by-case basis.
Watch: Health Minister Christine Elliott explains Ontario's plan to resume some elective surgeries
Officials could not say which procedures will take priority, as it will depend on how different kinds of operations affect hospitals in any given public health region. Speaking during his daily briefing, Ford said that cardiac and cancer-related operations will top the list.
In a best case scenario, the current backlog of surgeries could be cleared in a several weeks after procedures resume, however it will most likely take several months, ministry officials said.
Tens of thousands of scheduled surgeries have been delayed since the province ramped them down in March in order to free up 5,000 acute care beds for COVID-19 patients.
Ford's message to cottage owners
Meanwhile, as the Victoria Day long weekend approaches, Ford is telling seasonal residents heading up to cottage country to ensure they are physical distancing, while any would-be visitors are asked to stay home.
"We are still battling a terrible virus, so we are asking seasonal residents travelling to their cottages to practice the same public health measures as usual, including no public gatherings, avoiding nonessential travel as much as possible, and continue to practice social distancing," Ford said in a statement Thursday morning.
"Cottage country residents are known for their hospitality and normally they would be welcoming tourists with open arms right now. This year, however, they are asking visitors to help them fight the spread of COVID-19 and hold-off travelling to these regions until it is safe to do so."
Ford's message comes after a joint call with cottage country mayors on Wednesday. The premier had hinted during his daily briefings earlier this week that he would not issue an emergency order preventing cottage owners from travelling to their seasonal properties on the long weekend.
But today Ford stressed that the wishes of locals in cottage country communities be respected.
"I know Ontarians are eager to enjoy the great outdoors, but there will be plenty of long weekends to come," he said. "Right now, we need to focus on doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of all Ontarians."
Watch: A breakdown of businesses allowed to reopen in Ontario thus far