Ontario to release framework to reopen economy as COVID-19 long-term care deaths mount

The provincial government will release a framework early next week for how it plans to reopen Ontario's economy, Premier Doug Ford said Friday.

Province reports 573 COVID-19 deaths at long-term care homes, military intervening

Ontario reported 640 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, as hospitalizations rose slightly from Thursday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The provincial government will release a framework early next week for how it plans to reopen Ontario's economy, Premier Doug Ford said Friday.

During his daily news briefing on the COVID-19 crisis, Ford said community spread of the virus is moving in the right direction. But he also cautioned that any plans to reopen would come with the caveat of putting the health and safety of Ontario residents first.

"[The plan] will provide a gradual and measured approach for opening up," Ford said.

Health Minister Christine Elliott also said the province will begin scheduling elective surgeries again "as soon as we're able."

"This is something I know is extremely anxiety-provoking for many people," she said.

But, she noted, Ontario is still dealing with case counts of over 500 on a daily basis, and so officials have to ensure the province is past its peak of transmission to ensure hospital capacity is adequate.

Meanwhile, the military is now intervening at long-term care and retirement homes across the province, where the Ontario government reported a jump of 57 deaths on Friday. 

There are currently 131 outbreaks in homes across the province, with 573 deaths total. Some 2,287 residents and 1,089 staff have also tested positive.

Ford had asked the federal government for military backup at five of Ontario's hardest-hit nursing homes:

  • Orchard Villa, 40 deaths, 104 resident cases, 59 staff cases. 
  • Eatonville Care Centre, 37 deaths, 143 cases.
  • Altamont Community Care Centre, 31 resident deaths and one staff member, 58 resident cases, five staff cases. 
  • Hawthorne Place, nine deaths, 47 cases. 
  • Holland Christian Homes' Grace Manor, two deaths, 49 resident cases, 21 staff cases. 

Military support may be redeployed to other sites as required, said provincial spokesperson Ivana Yelich in a statement issued Friday. 

"Our top priority is ensuring the staff at these long-term care homes can focus on providing care and have the resources they need to combat the spread of this virus," the statement read. 

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province's associate chief medical officer of health, said at a news conference Friday afternoon that the province is "extremely concerned" about the numbers seen in long-term care and congregate settings, but "cautiously optimistic" about community spread.

Officials believe that numbers in the broader community have peaked, but, "we won't for sure know when we're at the peak until we're … on the way down," she said.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe said Friday that officials won't really know that COVID-19 cases have peaked until numbers start to drop. (CBC)

Still, Yaffe said, it seems as if numbers have "plateaued" — but she could not say how long numbers would crest along that line.

"It could actually be weeks," she said. "We don't know."

Province reports 640 new cases 

Ontario also reported a record-breaking 640 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number of cases in the province since the outbreak began to 13,519. 

The provincial government is reporting 763 deaths, though CBC News has counted 814 deaths according to data from local health units. Some 7,087 people have recovered. 

The province says it completed 12,295 tests within the 24 hours since its last update, while 5,414 are currently under investigation.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations from the virus rose to 910 from 877.

The number of patients in intensive care and on ventilators also both increased, bringing the totals to 243 and 193, respectively. 

These updated numbers come one day after Ford announced that his mother-in-law, who is a resident of a Toronto long-term care home ravaged by COVID-19, has tested positive for the disease.

His mother-in-law is a resident at the West Park Long-Term Care home, where at least 13 people had died due to COVID-19 as of Thursday.

Province announces small business rent relief

Ford also announced Friday that the province is partnering with the federal government to provide relief for landlords and small businesses affected by the pandemic.

The province says it is committing $241 million through the new Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program (OCECRA) to help provide relief.

According to a news release issued Friday, the program will provide forgivable loans to eligible commercial property owners experiencing rent shortfalls because their small business tenants have been impacted by the pandemic.

To receive the loan, property owners would be required to reduce the rental costs of small business tenants for April to June 2020 by at least 75 per cent and commit to a moratorium on evictions for three months, the province says.

"The vast majority of Ontario's small businesses and landlords are struggling during this extraordinary public health emergency," Ford said in a statement. "That's why we are doing everything we can to support them through these tough economic times, so they can hit the ground running when we are in a position to open up the provincial economy."