Some schools to return to in-person learning as Ontario sees 2,655 new COVID-19 cases
Workplace enforcement blitz also beginning at service sector businesses, farms with temporary foreign workers
Schools in seven public health units in southern Ontario will reopen for in-person learning Monday while the rest will continue teaching students online, the provincial government says.
Those seven public health units are Grey Bruce; Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge; Hastings and Prince Edward Counties; Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington; Leeds, Grenville and Lanark; Peterborough; and Renfrew County.
Schools in all other southern Ontario public health units will continue remote learning.
In late December, the government announced that all schools would be closed to in-person learning for the first week of the winter term. That closure was later extended to Jan. 25 for all schools in southern Ontario while students in northern Ontario returned to physical classrooms on Jan. 11.
The government then declared a state of emergency on Jan. 12 and extended online learning for schools in five hot spots until Feb. 10.
Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 2,655 cases of COVID-19 and 89 more deaths of people with the illness on Wednesday, as the government said it is expanding its workplace enforcement effort to include farming operations and essential businesses in the service sector.
The new cases include 925 in Toronto, 473 in Peel Region, 226 in York Region and 179 in Windsor-Essex County, which continues to see a huge strain on its intensive care units.
Other public health units that saw double- or triple-digit increases were:
- Niagara Region: 129
- Waterloo Region: 101
- Ottawa: 86
- Hamilton: 75
- Simcoe Muskoka: 71
- Durham Region: 70
- Middlesex-London: 65
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 56
- Halton Region: 51
- Southwestern: 20
- Thunder Bay: 17
- Eastern Ontario: 16
- Haldimand-Norfolk: 16
- Porcupine: 14
- Chatham-Kent: 13
- Lambton: 12
- Huron-Perth: 11
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)
The infections come as Ontario's network of labs processed 54,307 test samples for the novel coronavirus — a third straight day well below the system's capacity of more than 70,000 — and logged a test positivity rate of 4.9 per cent.
The seven-day average of new daily cases fell to 2,850, marking 10 consecutive days of decreases from a high of 3,555.
Notably, another 3,714 cases were marked resolved in today's update. There were 26,467 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 provincewide as of yesterday evening, a figure that has trended downward since the pandemic peak of 30,632 on Jan. 11.
The 89 additional deaths match the previous single-day record, which came on Jan. 7. (Public health units recorded 100 deaths on Jan. 15, however 46 of those deaths occurred "earlier in the pandemic," the Ministry of Health said at the time, and were included in that day's total due to data clean-up in the Middlesex-London Health Unit.)
There were 1,598 people with COVID-19 in hospitals. Of those, 395 were being treated in intensive care, while 296 required a ventilator to breathe.
Enforcement campaign to ramp up, province says
Meanwhile, the province said in a news release up to 300 inspectors will be involved in a new COVID-19 enforcement blitz, that will include inspections at farming operations that rely on temporary foreign workers. The first campaign is to be held in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, with 10 others planned so far in Toronto, Durham, Niagara, Halton, Huron Perth, Peterborough and Leeds Grenville Lanark.
The announcement comes after Ministry of Labour inspectors targeted 240 big-box stores in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area over the weekend and found about 69 per cent of locations were in compliance with public health guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton said groups found 76 contraventions of the rules, the majority of which were dealt with by issuing orders to improve. Twenty-five tickets were issued, including to Walmart, Shoppers Drug Mart, Sobeys and Costco locations.
Similar actions last December found about 67 per cent compliance. The most common infractions were not wearing masks, not having a safety plan and not screening people in the workplace, the province said.
But the minister said after months of life in the pandemic, the compliance rates should be higher.
"This is truly disappointing," he said. "These corporations must do better. Shareholders have the responsibility to keep their workers and customers safe. I want businesses to know if they won't operate safely in this emergency, you won't operate at all."
Under the provincial rules, corporations can face $1,000 fines and workers can face fines of $750 for not following public health measures.
Meanwhile, York Region shared a list of retailers fined over the last week for violations of Ontario's Reopening Ontario Act, among them major pharmacy and grocery locations.
Ontario recently ordered people to only leave their homes for groceries, medical appointments, exercise and work that can't be completed remotely.
Stores selling non-essential goods have been forced to temporarily close and operate solely through e-commerce and curbside pickups.
With files from Lucas Powers