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Ontario announces funds to hire over 4,000 LTC workers as province sees 476 new COVID-19 cases

Ontario reported 476 new cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of 14 more people with the illness on Wednesday.

7-day average of new daily cases at lowest point since Aug. 22

Major indicators continue to suggest that the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is receding in Ontario. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's long-term care operators welcomed provincial funding announced Wednesday to hire more than 4,000 staff within a year but advocates and employees said more must be done to improve working conditions in the sector.

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said the province would put aside $270 million to hire 4,050 long-term care workers by the end of next March.

It's part of a previously announced plan by the Progressive Conservative government to hire more workers for the sector, with a goal of getting long-term care residents an average of four hours of direct care per day by 2025.

In the short-term, the funding announced Wednesday is expected to increase residents' direct care to three hours per day by next March, Phillips said. Money will start flowing to the homes next month and the province will audit their expenditures to ensure funds are used properly, he said.

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association welcomed the funding as important to achieving the "historic" commitment of four hours of care per day for each resident. 

CEO Donna Duncan said long-term care homes, the government, labour and education groups must work "with urgency" to improve conditions in the sector. 

AdvantAge Ontario, which represents not-for-profit and municipal homes, also applauded the funding, calling it a "watershed moment" for the sector.

Working conditions 'the real obstacle': union

The largest union in the province's long-term care sector said it was pleased with plans to legislate the minimum care standard, but disappointed in the lengthy timeline to reach it. 

SEIU Healthcare also criticized the lack of a detailed plan to improve what it called "abhorrent" work conditions in the sector, saying workers need better wages and the stability of full-time positions.

"New trainees and hires are fleeing within days or weeks. This is the real obstacle to fixing long-term care," the union said in a statement. 

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario also called for better wages for workers, saying many were leaving the sector "faster than we can train and recruit them."

Phillips was non-committal Wednesday on whether the government would make a temporary $3 wage bump for personal support workers permanent.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said conditions won't improve until that happens.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner also called for permanent wage increases and access to mental health care for the workers.

Wednesday's announcement came after the province mandated COVID-19 vaccination for workers in the sector, which has been hit hard by outbreaks and deaths during the pandemic. Long-term care residents have represented more than a third of the province's deaths from COVID-19.

476 new COVID-19 cases, 14 more deaths

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 476 new cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of 14 more people with the illness on Wednesday. 

Of the 448 cases with a known vaccination status:

  • 294, or 66 per cent, were unvaccinated.
  • 13, or about three per cent, had a single dose.
  • 141, or 31 per cent, had two doses.

The seven-day average of new daily cases dropped slightly to 574.

The additional deaths — four of which occurred "more than a month ago," according to the Ministry of Health, and were included in today's report due to "data cleaning" — pushed the official toll to 9,771.

Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the daily provincial update:

Newly reported school-related cases: 173; 156 in students. Some 773 schools, or 16.1 per cent of Ontario's 4,844 publicly-funded schools, currently have at least one confirmed case. Eight schools in the province are closed due to COVID-19.

Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 156, with 103 needing a ventilator to breathe. According to Critical Care Services Ontario, 13 new adult patients with COVID-19 were admitted to ICUs on Tuesday. 

Tests completed in the last 24 hours: 39,460.

Provincewide positivity rate: 1.7 per cent.

Active cases: 4,579, down about eight per cent from Wednesday last week.

Vaccinations: 32,296 doses were administered by public health units on Tuesday. Slightly more than 12,000 of those were first shots. About 81.7 per cent of eligible Ontarians aged 12 and older have now had two doses of vaccine.

2 weeks of vaccine certificates

Today marks two weeks since Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine certificate program — often called vaccine passports — took effect. The policy requires proof of vaccination for entry into restaurants and bars, as well as theatres, cinemas, gyms and casinos, among other non-essential venues.

The province said it is primarily intended to avoid the need for any further widespread shutdowns of businesses. Health experts also hoped it would encourage persuadable residents who had opted not to be vaccinated to go and get their shots.

In the immediate aftermath of the government's announcement on Sept. 1, demand for first doses briefly jumped to levels not seen since late June, though it quickly fell again.

Then, when the policy took effect on Sept. 22, demand for first doses jumped again for several days, albeit more moderately. The seven-day average of total doses administered daily — that is, both first and second doses — saw consecutive increases from Sept. 22 to Sept. 28, after which it slowly began to decline.

On Sept. 22, 79.4 per cent of Ontarians had had two doses of vaccine. Today, two weeks later, the figure stands at 81.7 per cent, representing an average daily increase of about .16 per cent in the total number of those who are fully vaccinated.

Health units tighten vaccination rules for indoor sports

Some Ontario health units are taking a harder line than the province on COVID-19 vaccination rules for youth sports.

The province's proof-of-vaccination policy affecting gyms and other indoor facilities exempts people under age 18 who are entering fitness facilities to participate in organized sports.

But health units covering Windsor-Essex County and York Region have revoked that exemption.

They say heavy breathing, close and prolonged contact and crowded spaces during indoor sports increase the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission.

Medical officers covering seven northern Ontario health units are requiring vaccination for coaches, officials and volunteers aged 12 and older at indoor organized sports.

The immunization rule doesn't apply to youth participants but the group of top doctors says they will change that if deemed necessary.

With files from CBC News

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