Ontario reported 514 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a six per cent increase that brings the provincial total to nearly 9,000 since the outbreak began in late January.
The province also completed 9,001 tests since its last update on the novel coronavirus, topping the target of 8,000 daily tests by today that was set last week.
There is, however, an important caveat for the testing figures provided today.
On Wednesday, public health officials changed how they are counting tests. Previously, they reported how many people were being tested each day. Now, they are reporting how many samples are being processed each day.
That means that some of the 9,001 samples could have come from, for example, the existing testing backlog or from hospitalized patients, from whom a minimum of two samples are collected and processed by labs. It does not mean that 9,001 more people were tested since the last update.
Further, the change makes it impossible for the public to know how many people in Ontario have been tested for the novel coronavirus.
For the first time ever, the majority of Thursday’s new cases come from long-term care homes. Of the 514 new cases 271 are in long-term care homes and 243 are in the community.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said this is due to more testing and expanded criteria for testing in long-term care homes. He also said the fact that community cases have stayed under 300 on Thursday is a hopeful sign that the curve is flattening.
“Travel-related cases are pretty well gone and social and physical distancing is making an impact; we’re bending the curve,” Williams said at his daily update on Thursday.
Ontario’s official death toll from COVID-19 now sits at 423, though CBC News has collected data from regional public health units and counted at least 472 deaths across the province. Nearly 4,200 cases that have been resolved.
The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 rose slightly, from 795 to 807. Meanwhile, those in intensive care units dropped to 248 from 254. But the number of cases on ventilators — an important factor in how hospitals are able to cope with the influx of COVID-19 patients — increased from 188 to 200.
The growth in total cases has been relatively low for about a week, and Ontario health officials have said the peak is expected this week. Some 980 cases are health-care workers.
Situation in long-term care homes
Included in today’s official report from the province are the following figures regarding Ontario’s 626 long-term care facilities:
- 162 residents have died from COVID-19.
- 933 residents have been infected by the novel coronavirus.
- 530 staff members have been infected by the novel coronavirus.
- 104 homes have COVID-19 outbreaks (though Premier Doug Ford said during his daily news conference on Wednesday that the most current figure is 114 known outbreaks).
In a letter sent to Ontario hospitals Wednesday, the province said it is now issuing a “temporary pause” on transitioning hospital patients to long-term care and retirement homes.
“With hospital acute care capacity across Ontario at 64.1 per cent as of April 13, we believe hospitals can continue to
care for these patients safely given the risk of COVID-19 in LTC and retirement home settings,” the letter reads.
At his daily briefing on Thursday, Premier Ford said the province has added 2,000 acute and critical care beds to hospitals in Ontario and plans to add another 4,200 by April 30.
Earlier this week, the province issued an emergency order prohibiting employees from working at multiple long-term care facilities in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. CBC News has confirmed however that temporary workers are still being allowed to work in more than one facility.
‘Medical SWAT teams’ deployed
Ford described long-term care homes as the “front lines of this battle,” and explained that “medical SWAT teams” had been deployed to the homes that need it the most.
“We’re bringing in the very, very best. Specialists who are trained in the detection, prevention and containment of the world’s most deadliest diseases,” Ford said on Thursday.
In the last 24 hours, five hospitals worked together to help 38 long-term care homes in need, according to Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care.
“This is the model that we will be expanding across the province,” Fullerton said.
Child-care centres ask for funding to stay open
A coalition of child-care advocates is calling on the province to offer financial assistance to providers across Ontario to ensure none close permanently as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Coalition for Better Child Care says many of the centres, which are closed and not collecting fees during the pandemic, have laid off staff and are having trouble paying their bills.
The group is asking the province to provide emergency funds to the centres to replace the fees normally paid by parents.
Last week, Ontario’s education minister said the province would prevent child-care centres from collecting payments while they’re closed due to the pandemic.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce says he is working with both the federal and municipal governments to ensure the child-care system remains sustainable.
Some child-care centres that are looking after the children of health-care and other front-line workers have remained open, but the rest have been shuttered due to the pandemic.
Revised testing guidelines
Ontario is also expanding its testing for COVID-19 priority groups, including for residents and staff of homeless shelters and group homes, people living with health-care workers and cancer patients.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the new guidelines will help Ontario take full advantage of the testing capacity it has built, and will help the province more effectively identify and contain cases among vulnerable populations.
The new guidelines say people living and working in “congregate” settings such as homeless shelters, correctional facilities and group homes should be tested as soon as possible if they have symptoms such as fever, pneumonia or “any new or worsening symptom.”
Essential workers, cross-border workers, and people living with health-care workers, care providers and first responders are also now to be tested as soon as possible if they develop symptoms.
The guidelines also say people who need to be in frequent contact with the health system, including cancer patients, people undergoing dialysis and pregnant women should be tested as soon as they develop symptoms.
Symptoms are now defined as fever, pneumonia, “any new or worsening symptom” such as cough or shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, or nasal congestion, hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing, new smell or taste disorders, nausea, vomiting, diahrrea, or abdominal pain.
Testing asymptomatic people is still not recommended, except for newborns whose mothers have COVID-19.
2nd death at Participation House
A second resident of a facility for adults with developmental and physical disabilities in Markham, Ont., has died, according to her family.
Earl Baird told CBC News that his sister, Patricia “Patty” Baird, passed away Wednesday afternoon. Patricia had lived at Participation House for more than five years, he said. She was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Monday, he added.
“We all know of this dreadful virus — now our family has been personally affected,” Baird wrote in a Facebook post.
“I cannot describe the pure love and a heart that our universe could not contain that was within Patty.”
Earlier this week, administrators at the home said that 37 of its 42 residents had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as 12 staff members.