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Doug Ford blasts 'unacceptable' level of COVID-19 testing as Ontario cases top 5,000

Ontario Premier Doug Ford blasted the "unacceptable" number of daily COVID-19 tests being done in the province, as the province confirmed 550 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Province sees largest single-day increase in cases since the outbreak began

Front line health-care staff conduct drive-through COVID-19 testing at a specially built facility near Etobicoke General Hospital in Toronto on April 8, 2020. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Premier Doug Ford blasted the "unacceptable" number of daily COVID-19 tests being done in Ontario as the province confirmed 550 new cases of the virus and the number of dead surpassing 200.

"What's unacceptable is the number of tests we are doing," Ford said at a news conference Wednesday. "My patience is running thin." 

Minister of Health Christine Elliott said Tuesday Ontario currently has the capacity to run as many as 13,000 tests daily, but the province's 100 dedicated testing centres have not been submitting that many swabs each day. 

At first there weren't enough assessment centres, then there was not enough lab capacity, then the supplies of reagent — key for testing — were low, but those issues have been dealt with, Ford said.

Now, he says, the province needs to "get a move on it." 

'No more excuses' 

"We need to start testing everybody possible," Ford said, especially front-line health workers including those working in hospitals and long-term care homes, as well as first responders, police and paramedics.

Ford also said all seniors at long-term care homes should be tested, as well as all vulnerable people across the province.

Doug Ford says his patience has 'run thin' over the unacceptably low number of tests being done in Ontario. 1:44

"We have to keep testing the public too, it's all hands on deck now," Ford added. "There's no more excuses, we need to get it done, bottom line."

The premier added that he will be following up with his team later today to make sure there's a clear plan in place to boost the daily tests to 13,000, but did not say if any accountability measures might be in place if the testing does fall short.

Total of deaths in Ontario tops 200 

The  number of confirmed cases of the virus jumped by 11.6 per cent on Wednesday, bringing the provincial total to 5,276.

It is the largest single-day increase in cases since the outbreak began.

The official tally includes 174 deaths, though CBC News has compiled data from regional public health units across the province and counted at least 215 COVID-19-linked deaths.

Some 1,102 people are awaiting test results. 

Data from the Ministry of Health shows there were just 2,568 new test results provided on Tuesday. That's roughly half the daily target of 5,000 that the government promised to achieve in late March, and far short of the 19,000 tests per day promised for the third week of April. 

The slower-than-promised pace continued Wednesday, with Ontario announcing 3,237 new test results.

Testing capacity has grown significantly, health officials say 

Public health officials acknowledged Wednesday that lab capacity has grown significantly and that the push is now on to get more people to take the test at community assessment centres.

"The bottom line is we want to do more testing, we're working very hard now to increase the testing," said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, when asked about guidelines that restrict tests, even for some who display COVID-19 symptoms.

Ontario is now dealing with more than 5,000 cases of COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said there's an expert group that will report very shortly on a strategy to expand the number of tests and further increase the capacity of testing centres. 

Although Williams said the increased capacity will make long-term care workers and residents a priority, he added health officials also hope to expand testing within Indigenous populations, prisons and the province's homeless population. 

Williams also said the fewer tests seems to coincide with fewer people using the province's telehealth service and its online assessment tool, which tells people whether they meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing.

"It may be evidence of some flattening," he suggested, admitting he preferred to "be optimistic" in believing it could be due to fewer travellers and fewer people with symptoms.

"We're not trying to limit (testing)," he insisted.

Williams cautioned that testing too widely would produce "biased" data that skew too heavily toward negative results when the goal is to reflect the population-at-large.

He also said global demand for testing and laboratory supplies is still high, requiring continued rationing, even as criteria is expanded to include milder symptoms.

Province asks for 40% of federal 3M mask order 

At the press conference on Wednesday, Ford also said he's more confident now than a few days ago when it comes to the province's access to personal protective equipment. 

He also said he is expecting Ontario to receive 40 per cent of the federal government's order of 500,000 3M masks.

Nearly 60 long-term care homes dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks

Health authorities are tracking 58 COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities across the province.

At the Seven Oaks long-term care home in Scarborough, Ont., there have now been 16 deaths related to COVID-19, Toronto public health officials said Tuesday.

There are also 45 confirmed cases among residents, 13 confirmed cases among staff, and an additional 56 probable cases at the home. 

In Bobcaygeon, Ont., another resident of Pinecrest Nursing Home has died, bringing the death toll there to 28.

Mary Carr, the facility's administrator, confirmed the most recent fatality to CBC News. 

And in Oshawa, Ont., there have been seven deaths at Hillsdale Terraces long-term care centre, up from three deaths reported on Friday. 

Meanwhile, the virus continues to seriously sicken hundreds. 

The latest data shows that of the 605 people who have been hospitalized:

  • 246 are in intensive care units.
  • 195 are on ventilators.

The Ministry of Health also offered the following breakdown of total cases since Jan. 15:

  • 46.1 per cent of cases are male, while 53.3 per cent are female.
  • 36.4 per cent of cases are people 60 years of age and older.
  • Greater Toronto Area public health units account for nearly 52 per cent of cases.

Toronto to receive thousands of masks to replace faulty ones

The province will replace thousands of faulty masks the City of Toronto was forced to recall, Mayor John Tory said during the city's daily COVID-19 update on Wednesday.

The city recalled some 240,000 poorly-made masks that had been given to front-line workers, which had already been used by over 200 long-term care staff.

Tory said the province will replace 200,000 of the faulty masks in "another example of the good cooperation between the City of Toronto and Province of Ontario." 

Province announces new workplace safety measures 

Ford also announced the implementation of enhanced workplace safety measures for essential businesses during the outbreak.

Monte McNaughton, Ontario's labour minister, said on Wednesday the province can expect more safety inspections  as well as a higher capacity for workers to voice concerns.

He also said the province is hiring retired inspectors to followup on those concerns. 

"Our government is working day and night to support you," McNaughton told those working jobs deemed essential. 

Essential construction projects extended to 24 hours per day

The province is also extending construction hours for essential health-care construction projects to 24 hours per day. 

Those projects include building hospital expansions, COVID-19 assessment centres and temporary structures amid the pandemic.

New portal for health-care workers gets thousands of applications

Meanwhile, Ford said 8,000 people have already signed up for the province's new online portal, which matches skilled front-line workers with employers.

The province says the Health Workforce Matching Portal will allow health-care providers with a range of experience —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, launched Tuesday, has already matched 1,000 people to potential jobs, Ford said. 

Dealership offers RVs to hospital staff who can't go home 

The owner of several RV dealerships in Durham Region is offering up dozens of RVs to hospital staff who can't go home. 

Although the dealerships are closed to the public, a small team has volunteered to stay and help frontline workers. 

"We are doing this in order to help support our first responders who need ways to get to work [and] home," said Bob Verwey, president of the Owasco Group in Durham, Ont. 

Verwey said the dealership has as many as 70 RVs and trailers on offer to hospitals in Oshawa and Ajax for doctors and nurses to live in during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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