Premier Doug Ford said Monday it would be "irresponsible" to reverse the current shutdown in Ontario all at once. His comments come as the province's associate chief medical officer of health said Ontario could see the number of COVID-19 cases hit a peak this week.
"The modellers have told us that the peak is likely going to happen this week," Dr. Barbara Yaffe said during a media briefing on Monday afternoon.
Yaffe said if the models are correct, this gives her a "glimmer of hope," but that she couldn't say right now exactly when or at what point on the epidemic curve public health measures could be relaxed — just that they would need to be done "very carefully."
"My biggest biggest fear is all of a sudden we get another wave and it hits us, I just want to make sure we do it properly, cautiously, and not just jump into this and just open up the floodgates," Ford said when asked if a boost in testing in long-term care homes could allow for the province's economy to be reopened. "You just can’t flick the lights on."
Ford said while he understands it's tough for people to stay at home and he is aware they're getting "antsy," he is waiting to see more modelling information. Even then, the economy would only be reopened in "trickles," he said, adding that there would still be risks in doing that.
"Even when the economy turns on a little bit, there are still going to be people with COVID-19 and there are still going to be deaths," Ford said. "It just makes me nervous just to move forward rapidly."
The province reported 421 new COVID-19 cases on Monday for a total of 7,470 cases in Ontario — a six per cent increase from the previous day's reporting. Ontario is seeing a lower number of COVID-19 patients in ICU than was expected in the province's modelling information. The models released on April 3 suggested that in the best-case scenario, Ontario could have just over 1,000 people in ICU by April 13, but provincial data on Monday showed 263 people in ICU.
"The reason we’re at the numbers we’re at right now is because of the great work of the residents of Ontario, everyone pitched in," said Ford, adding the government would be releasing updated modelling information in "the next short while."
The province reported 89 outbreaks in long-term care homes with 120 related deaths on Monday.
Asked how COVID-19 was able to enter long-term care homes after the government declared a state of emergency and started issuing guidelines to these facilities, Elliott said part of the reason is some staff members are working in multiple homes "and they inadvertently brought the virus into the homes."
She said the Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams has "strongly recommended" that people only work in one facility "with the hope that they will be able to increase their hours."
Elliott said they're also trying to cohort workers to have different people working with residents who have COVID-19 symptoms and those who are well.
Ford said there could be gaps if workers were told to work at just one home, but that it makes sense to do this.
"I’m going to rely on [my] health team to come up with that recommendation, but it sounds like common sense, you don’t want people going from home to home to home," he said.
Yaffe said she thinks people working in multiple facilities is "definitely" contributing to the outbreaks in these facilities and that while the government is considering a change, it isn't easy to restrict workers to a single facility.
Meanwhile, Premier Ford also said the province is testing all patients and workers in long-term care homes, but testing every person in a facility with an outbreak isn't part of the new guidelines provided to the sector. The new guidelines for seniors' homes say that new residents and those re-admitted to long-term care and retirement homes should be tested, as well as contacts of symptomatic and confirmed cases.
Ford said he had a discussion with Matthew Anderson, the head of Ontario Health, over the weekend about this.
"He told me that he’s going to be proactive and test everyone, I have to take him at his word," said Ford. "We’re going to see the numbers, either it’s going to get done or it’s not going to get done, but hopefully it’s going to get done."
Ford said he feels like his government is "doing everything we can right now" to protect seniors living in long-term care or retirement homes.
Premier Ford said it was "heartbreaking" to hear about a COVID-19 outbreak at Participation House, a home for adults with disabilities in Markham, that led to several staff members walking off the job last week.
Ford thanked former federal MPP and health minister Dr. Jane Philpott for "putting on the scrubs and coming back to the frontline" to help the remaining staff at the home.
Wishing Happy Easter to all. I'll be quiet on Twitter the next few days. Pitching in to support the special residents & wonderful caring team at Participation House Markham who r dealing with a #covid outbreak. Will let u know how to help in the days ahead https://t.co/NsAeoxch0k
— Jane Philpott (@janephilpott) April 12, 2020
The premier said government ministers have been trying to help address the situation, including having discussions with Markham Stouffville Hospital about providing support to the home.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said instead of pulling people out of hospitals to help staff seniors' homes and group homes that need extra support, the province is turning to the thousands of retired nurses, medical students and people with foreign credentials who have offered to help.
Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience Inc. recently received approval from Health Canada for its "portable" COVID-19 test which could be performed on-site at clinics, airports, border crossings, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and remote communities.
Elliott congratulated the company on Twitter on Sunday, saying she expected to receive thousands of these tests "within weeks" to "help bolster the next phase of our #COVID19 testing strategy."
Congratulations @spartanbio, an Ontario innovator, for receiving Health Canada authorization. To help bolster the next phase of our #COVID19 testing strategy, we expect to receive thousands of these new point-of-care tests within weeks. https://t.co/NvEiYhBoy2
— Christine Elliott (@celliottability) April 12, 2020
Spartan Bioscience said in an April 2 press release that, pending approval from Health Canada, the Ontario government had purchased nearly 1 million test kits. On April 13, the company said this latest green light meant tests could be shipped to the federal and provincial governments "starting immediately."
Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the federal government's strategy with these tests would be to prioritize remote areas that have less access to central testing labs to eliminate the need for transporting tests and reduce the turnaround time for results.
"I think it will make a lot of difference in areas that have less access right now," said Tam during a media briefing on Monday afternoon.
Premier Ford said shortly after that the Spartan tests would be helpful for frontline healthcare workers and first responders.
"We can get a result in an hour, well we might have to be testing people every second, third day in those positions," he said. He noted that some people can get infected the day after being tested or that an infection might not be initially caught by a test.
"I understand that, but still, it’s better to test than to not test," said Ford, continuing to voice his frustration over a lower number of tests being done in the province than he'd like.
"I’m not a medical doctor, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the more people we test, the quicker we’re going to put an end to this," he said on Monday. "I’m frustrated to say the least."
The Ontario government announced on Friday its plan to ramp up testing in the province with a goal to process 8,000 tests by April 15 and 14,000 by April 29. Provincial officials previously said at the end of March that their goal was to boost testing capacity to 18,900 by April 17. When Ford first declared his disappointment with the testing on April 8, the daily average at the time was around 3,000 tests. Updated numbers from the province on Monday morning showed Ontario had tested around 5,065 people in the previous 24 hours, although the number of actual tests done could be higher since some patients are tested twice.
No update on school closures
Ford said it was a "little premature" to say whether schools will reopen on May 4 as is currently planned or if students will be facing distant learning for the rest of the school year. He was asked whether any determination would be made on this by tomorrow given that some MPPs will be back at Queen's Park for another special sitting.
"We’re seeing...a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel here, but still we're going to take the advice of the chief medical officer and our health team," said Ford.
Personal protective equipment being delivered
Premier Ford said that over the past five days, the province has received more than 13 million surgical and procedural masks, 200,000 N95 masks and 38 ventilators.
This past weekend, more than 6.5 million surgical masks were delivered to hospitals and seniors' homes across Ontario, he added.
Ford also thanked Alberta Premier Jason Kenney for agreeing to send more than 250,000 N95 masks, 2.5 million surgical masks, 15 million surgical gloves, 87,000 safety goggles and 50 ventilators to Ontario.
Photo Credit: Steve Russell/Toronto Star