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Ontario sees 321 new COVID-19 cases as long-term care homes call for vaccine mandate for health workers

Ontario reported 321 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, while the organization that represents a majority of long-term care homes in the province called on the government to mandate vaccines for health-care workers in all settings. 

Ontario Long-term Care Association says province should require vaccines for all health workers

Long-term care home workers get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario reported 321 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, while the organization that represents a majority of long-term care homes in the province called on the government to mandate vaccines for health-care workers in all settings. 

In a statement, the Ontario Long-term Care Association said that a provincial mandate would be the most effective way to curb the threat posed by the highly infectious delta variant.

"Clear policy from the Ontario government will create consistency across all long-term care homes, hospitals, home care and other health-care services providing peace of mind to residents, patients, staff and their families across the province," said Donna Duncan, CEO of the association.

The Ontario Medical Association and Registered Nurses Association of Ontario have also made similar calls on the government. 

In her statement, Duncan also urged the province and its "relevant scientific partners" to explore the possibility of booster shots for residents, staff and essential caregivers ahead of an emerging fourth wave of the illness.

The province currently requires staff in long-term care homes to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status, and those who are unvaccinated for non-medical reasons have to undergo education about the importance of immunization.

But Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott have refused to mandate vaccines in any setting.

Ford has, however, spoken in support of a Toronto hospital network's policy that unvaccinated staff — and those won't disclose their vaccination status — have to take a COVID-19 test before coming to work.

At a news conference Tuesday, Elliott said there is a "mixture of views" on mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers, despite three major health organizations publicly coming out in favour of the practice.

"We are not mandating vaccines for anyone, though we strongly encourage people to take the vaccine," Elliott said.

New data on vaccination status of cases, hospital admissions

Meanwhile, Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore urged Ontarians to focus less on daily COVID-19 case counts and more on hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

The Health Ministry has rearranged its daily reporting website and added new metrics, comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated cases and hospital admissions.

Notably, given how and when the newly available data is collected, it will not necessarily correspond to figures reported in the province's daily epidemiological update, the ministry cautioned.

Moore wrote in a Toronto Star op-ed today that growing case counts won't have the same meaning now as during previous waves, due to high rates of vaccinations.

He said that the breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people tend to be milder.

WATCH | Ontario's top doctor talks vaccine passports:

Reporter asks chief medical officer of health why Ontario won't implement vaccine passport

4 months ago
Duration 1:11
Dr. Kieran Moore said it's a "government decision not to have mandatory immunization policies," but that no door has been "formally closed." 1:11

Rates will go up into the fall, Moore said at a news conference Tuesday, but he added that this is "not a cause for panic."

"Our case rates will fluctuate over time," he said.

Moore called on people who are unvaccinated to "step up," as provincial data shows unvaccinated people are eight times more likely to get the virus than people who've had their shots, he said.

"It is never too late to be immunized," he said.

Elliott said Tuesday that the "vast majority" of cases in the province are found in people who are not vaccinated.

Both Moore and Elliott were asked Tuesday about the possibility of vaccine passports being instituted in Ontario, but both said that is not something the province is considering. 

NDP calls for vaccine certification system

NDP health critic France Gélinas, MPP for Nickel Belt, said the government needs to develop a plan for a provincial vaccine certification system now. Vaccine passports would give fully immunized residents a way to return to a more normal life and would give businesses a chance to remain open, she said.

"Businesses don't want to be left to themselves to try figure out, 'How can I have more people in my restaurant? How can I have more people in my gym so that I can pay my rent and my employees at the end of the month?'" she said.

"The way to do this is to let them know that the people coming through the door are vaccinated because so far the vaccine has shown to be very effective against all of the variants that have entered Ontario."

Direction is needed from the province, she added.

"Many businesses are trying to do it on their own. They're reaching out and saying they're having a tough time. They really don't want to be the ones who put in a system to check for vaccination but they know that, for us, who have done the right things, who have been able to get vaccinated and are vaccinated, they would like us to go to visit their business and keep them alive," she said.

Business groups such as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, and doctors', nurses' and pharmacists' groups have called for a vaccine certificate system as a way to avoid a fourth-wave lockdown.

Ford has said he doesn't want to create a "split society," and Elliott said Tuesday that requiring proof of vaccination is up to individual businesses.

Kerry Bowman, a University of Toronto professor who teaches bio-ethics and global health, said there are ethical questions with vaccine passports. He said he's not a believer in a one-size-fits-all approach to the issue.

"Any business that is going to start turning people away individually is going to have to be very, very careful about human rights discrimination and make sure they're very clear on what they're doing and why they're doing it," Bowman said.

Bowman said it also makes workers, such as a waiter or waitress, into "vaccine police." And it raises questions about whether staff as well as patrons would have to be fully vaccinated.

"If the staff don't have mandatory vaccination in a restaurant, but the patrons do, it doesn't make sense. I think we have to be very careful about how we proceed with this."

7-day average tops 300

Meanwhile, the additional COVID-19 cases reported today pushed the seven-day average to 306, the first time it has topped 300 in more than six weeks.

Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health's daily provincial update:

Tests completed: 16,479.

Provincewide test positivity rate: 1.7 per cent.

Active cases: 2,494.

Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 109, with 72 needing a ventilator to breathe.

Deaths: Two, bringing to the official toll to 9,407.

Vaccinations: 48,278 doses were administered Monday. Roughly 72 per cent of those aged 12 and older have had both shots.

With files from Lucas Powers, Adam Carter and The Canadian Press

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