Premier Doug Ford says an enhanced action plan for dealing with the "wildfire" of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes is coming tomorrow.
The province will follow British Columbia's lead and bar employees from working at more than one facility, and top up pay for part-time workers, he told reporters Tuesday afternoon from Queen's Park. That measure will be passed on Tuesday via an emergency order.
"We're prepared to spend more as required," Ford said.
Long-term care homes have been ravaged by the virus. Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said outbreaks at seniors' facilities have caused nearly half of Canada's COVID-19-related deaths.
There will be enough health-care workers to manage Ontario's new one-worker-one-home rule, Ford said, since hospitals have so far not seen the massive surge in COVID-19 patients some expected — so the province will be able to re-allocate staff to fill any gaps.
Health Minister Christine Elliott added that the province has received thousands of applications through its online portal asking for extra help — including retired nurses, students and foreign-trained workers — and has been matching "a solid number" of them with care homes.
The overall action plan for long-term care homes, to be announced tomorrow, will include more support and more resources, Ford said.
"We will spare no expense to protect our most vulnerable," he said.
Asked whether he thought the changes for long-term care workers should be made permanent after the pandemic, Ford said, "Personally, yes" — though he said he'll take the advice of health officials.
Ford was asked why the one-worker-one-home policy took this long, since nurses have been calling for the change for weeks — and some experts have been raising the alarm since the SARS crisis. The premier repeated that the province now has the capacity to re-allocate workers to long-term care homes, which it didn't earlier in the pandemic.
"Right now it looks pretty good in the hospitals. But again, we have to make sure that we have the resources before we made the move on this one item," he said.
Long-term care workers have continued to say they're suffering from a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). Ford said equipment should be arriving at homes within 24 hours of it being directed there.
"There's been very, very strict instructions that they get the PPE that they need," he said.
Ford said he's spoken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about Ottawa potentially helping the province cover the cost of increased support worker hours and hiring.
He also declined to commit to getting every long-term care resident tested for COVID-19, as Quebec has done.
Despite tentative good signs from the "curve" of coronavirus cases, Ford said he is in no rush to return to normalcy. He declined to say whether this would be the final extension of Ontario's state of emergency.
"The number one priority, this is a health crisis. And I'm not going to jeopardize people's health to open up the floodgates. I'm just not going to do it until we start seeing the curve go down," he said.
Trudeau is on the same page, saying this morning that eased restrictions are still weeks away.
School will not be coming back on May 4, Ford also confirmed during his press conference. But he said this doesn't mean that the school year is cancelled. Education Minister Stephen Lecce will have more to say on the topic in the next few days, Ford said.
Asked whether now is the time to consider placing limits on how much people can buy of certain types of items, Ford said he'd leave that to the business people in charge of retail stores, saying he hasn't heard from them on that topic yet.