Ontario reported 459 additional cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a figure consistent with new daily case counts seen throughout much of April.
The news comes after the province saw its lowest daily increase in three weeks yesterday, prompting Premier Doug Ford to tell reporters during his daily briefing that Ontario is “getting close to opening up.”
Ontario’s top doctor has said health officials would need to see two to four weeks of declining daily case counts before emergency measures can be loosened significantly.
The cases push the cumulative total since the outbreak began in January to 16,187, though 63 per cent are now considered resolved by Ontario Public Health. About 14 per cent of those instances, or 2,292 cases, are health-care workers, while about 11.6 per cent ended up requiring treatment in hospital.
Some 35 per cent of total cases are known to have come from community transmission, according to the Ministry of Health, while details on more than 37 per cent are still “pending.”
Ontario also confirmed 86 more COVID-19-linked deaths, bringing its official death toll to 1,082. However CBC News has compiled data from regional public health units and counted at least 1,145 deaths.
New workplace safety guidelines released
At his daily briefing on Thursday, Premier Doug Ford announced 65 new safety guidelines for businesses as the province prepares for a gradual reopening.
“We’re on the path to reopening the economy because we see that curve is flattening,” Ford said. “I’m laser focused on opening things up as quickly as we can.”
The guidelines are meant to protect workers and customers specifically in manufacturing, food manufacturing and processing, restaurant and food service, and the agricultural sector.
The new guidelines include:
Ways to ensure appropriate physical distancing, like eliminating pay-at-the-door options, holding team meetings outdoors, staggering shift times and using ground markings and barriers to manage traffic flow.
Changes to the workplace, like installing plexiglass barriers, increasing the air intake on building heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to increase air flow, and using boot sanitizing trays.
Promoting proper workplace sanitation, providing personal protective equipment, substituting dry dusting with vacuuming, ensuring customer-facing staff are given hand sanitizer, providing a place to dispose of sanitizing wipes and enforcing handwashing before and after breaks.
The province also added 58 new labour inspectors. The employees, which include workers from the Technical Standards and Safety Authority and the Ontario College of Trades, will help outline COVID-19 safety guidelines to essential workplaces and will enforce emergency measures, including physical distancing.
‘That’s just wrong’: Ford lashes out at window-visit ban
Ford lashed out at a move by Ottawa’s director of long-term care to ban window visits at the facilities.
“That’s just wrong,” he said of the new restrictions announced Wednesday, which have since been condemned by Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Watson.
“Go visit your loved ones as far as I’m concerned. This is critical and hopefully it’s not the last time you see them. I’d go to the window,” Ford said.
The premier regularly visits his mother-in-law outside her long term care home. She was diagnosed with COVID-19 a week ago.
Watson says he wants a new plan in place by May 7.
Outbreaks in long-term care homes continue to spread, with health authorities now tracking infections in 190 of the province’s 626 facilities — nine more than in the previous 24 hours. Some 835 residents have died from the illness — nearly three quarters of all deaths in Ontario — while 2,352 more have been infected, 264 more than yesterday.
The ministry also reported 1,430 staff members in long-term care facilities have tested positive, an increase of 322 since the last update.
Hospitalizations from COVID-19 went up again, from 977 to 999. However, the number of people being treated in intensive care units dropped slightly again, to 233 from 235. Patients on ventilators, a figure that has largely remained stable for several weeks, went down to 181 from 186.
Here’s a look at how medical staff at one Toronto hospital celebrated after one COVID-19 patient recovered enough to be taken off a ventilator.
In the previous day there were 12,928 tests completed, despite a pledge from the province to reach 14,000 tests a day by now.
However, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said the number of test completed in the last 24 hours is “a new high for us.”
Williams said the target is to get to 19,000 test per day and added he hoped to surpass that number eventually.
That’s the target, but I don’t think that’s the end,” he told reporters at his daily update on Thursday.
Ontario college ‘optimistic’ students will return to campus this fall
One Ontario college says it is “optimistic” students will be able to return on campus for classes in the fall.
Sheridan College says it is preparing to welcome students in September, but adds it is also working on contingency plans in case physical distancing measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 remain in place.
Those plans include remote learning and staggered access to campus.
Many schools have said it’s still unclear what the fall semester will look like as the public health emergency changes daily.
Renewed calls for race-based data
There were also renewed calls Thursday for Ontario to collect race-based data around COVID-19, with Liberal MPP Michael Couteau issuing a letter to Ford.
“In the United States, we have seen how Black and other minority communities are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” the letter says in part.
“We need to be able to analyze our own health data in the same way in order to make informed decisions to fight the crisis.”
NDP leader Andrea Horwath sent a similar message in a letter to the premier April 16, saying “black, Indigenous and racialized Ontarians already face poorer health outcomes and barriers to accessing services.”
“COVID-19 will only exacerbate these inequities unless we collect the data to guide our response.”
Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, York and Caledon have already agreed to collect race-based data at the municipal level.
The province has said its Anti-Racism Act does not authorize health-care providers to collect such data, because of privacy considerations.
Canada also doesn’t track race or ethnicity as part of its COVID-19 data collection at the federal level.
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