Premier calls out to students, retirees and foreign-trained health-care workers
The provincial government has created an online portal to match health-care workers and volunteers with employers in need.
The province is asking "retired or non-active health care professionals, internationally educated health care professionals, students, and volunteers with health care experience" to step forward and create a profile on the site that includes their qualifications and experience. The portal will then match them with healthcare-sector employers that need help.
"If you have medical training, if you want to save lives, we need you," said Premier Doug Ford at a press conference Tuesday. "Join the fight today."
Health Minister Christine Elliott said foreign-trained medical professionals would gain Canadian experience with the work they're offered, which would be important for them, but the province would have look at the broader issue of the recognition of foreign credentials after the crisis is over.
Opposition leaders — NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca — said they hoped the government would help foreign-trained health-care workers who step up to get Ontarian credentials once the crisis is over.
— Andrea Horwath (@AndreaHorwath) April 7, 2020
Earlier on Tuesday, Horwath called on the government to shore up its policies concerning long-term care and home care.
"Long-term care in this province is experiencing a perfect storm. We entered this pandemic with a long-term care and home-care system already in crisis," said Horwath. "It was a patchwork of underfunded and badly understaffed long-term care homes and home-care providers and reaction to the pandemic, knowing this reality, was unconscionably slow."
She called on the government to mandate a staffing increase in long-term care homes and boost salaries for the personal support workers and registered practical nurses who work in them, as well as limiting workers to one home only, with full-time hours, to prevent them from spreading the disease.
She also called on the government to mandate that home-care workers wear personal protective equipment, including gloves and a surgical mask, to avoid spreading the disease between clients, and to mandate long-term care staff wear protection when with residents.
Horwath also called on the government to create a fund to support people who care for their loved ones at home.
On Monday Ford warned that Ontario had only one week's worth of vital personal protective equipment left — and a day later, he said the province is already a little better off.
In part, that is because of the agreement reached between 3M and the U.S. government that will allow the company to ship masks to Canada — however, Ford also said he needs more clarification on what that agreement will mean for Ontario.
Ford also said visited Woodbridge Auto's manufacturing facility in Vaughan to personally pick up the first batch of masks the company is manufacturing.
According to the premier's office, Woodbridge received approval from Health Canada to begin manufacturing the masks, verifying they meet the ASTM International level 3 standard. However, the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is yet to certify the masks, but the premier is hopeful they will be certified as equivalent to, or better than, the N-95 masks that are in high demand and short supply.
Woodbridge will manufacture the masks at its affiliated manufacturing sites located in Vaughan and Kitchener.
"Woodbridge together with the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association has been working at an unprecedented pace to retool their factories and get the required approvals to manufacture masks for our frontline line workers," Ford said in a statement. "I was thrilled to see firsthand the fruition of their hard work and look forward to them ramping up production in the coming days to meet the demands of Ontario and soon other parts of the country."
"While our government continues to pursue and exhaust every avenue available to secure the PPE needed to fight COVID-19, today marks the beginning of Ontario moving towards greater self-sufficiency on vital supplies that will keep us well equipped now and into the future,” said Ford.
Premier @fordnation picked up the first supply of personal protective equipment produced right here in Ontario. Thank you to The Woodbridge Group for producing and donating these Level 3 masks. #OntarioSpirit https://t.co/DbLWcj2Czs
— Christine Elliott (@celliottability) April 7, 2020
First Nations funding
The province announced $37.8 million in funding to help Indigenous communities manage the threat of COVID-19, after some cases have been confirmed in communities including Eabametoong First Nation in Northern Ontario.
"Indigenous communities face unique challenges in planning for and tackling the COVID-19 outbreak," said Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs. "We are working closely with Indigenous leaders and making critical investments to ensure Indigenous people and communities have the necessary tools and supports in place to stop the spread of COVID-19."
The funding will go toward food, household goods and other critical supplies, self-isolation facilities in remote communities, supports for urban Indigenous people, planning and prevention, as well as social services supports, housing services and the transportation of goods through remote airports.
Ontario has been heavily criticized for conducting the fewest COVID-19 tests per capita in all of Canada, but according to the health minister's office some of the province's problems are behind it and a new strategy will be in place soon.
Elliott said the province has eliminated its testing backlog and has increased the capacity of its labs so up to 13,000 tests can be analyzed per day. However, on Monday, only about 3,500 tests were submitted for analysis.
"This surplus in capacity means that we can now look at testing more people, particularly priority populations, including health care staff, residents and staff in long-term care and retirement homes and Indigenous communities," said the minister's spokesperson in a statement. "We expect to have more to say about a new testing strategy that makes full use of this capacity shortly."
So far, the province has left the decision of whom to test largely in the hands of frontline clinicians. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the fact that fewer people are coming forward to be tested may be a sign of the curve flattening. He also said the issue of how to expand testing without exhausting supplies is being actively considered.
Ford has declared the Easter Bunny is an essential service provider — but even the magical rabbit is barred from delivering treats in parks, playgrounds and other outdoor recreational amenities.