Premier Doug Ford lashed out at some chief medical officers of health in Ontario, saying that they aren't doing enough coronavirus testing.
Ford made the remarks when asked at his daily afternoon press availability about a decline in testing compared to yesterday that saw Ontario administer about 7,000 fewer tests. The premier suggested the buck stops with the 34 medical officers of health in public health units across the province.
"There's certain medical officers in certain jurisdictions," said the premier, who didn't name names. "Some just aren't performing," he declared. "Half are exceeding expectations...others just aren't putting the work in," he added, suggesting effort or motivation was behind the dearth of tests.
Testing has been a hot-button issue in Ontario as for a while the province had the lowest per capita tests in the country. The government established a goal of 18,000 daily tests by mid-April but later moved the goalposts; they only neared that level with yesterday's tests, when the government touted the testing levels. Widespread testing and contact tracing are seen by experts as key elements of a sustainable plan to re-open the province with confidence.
"Start picking up your socks," the premier said, issuing a call to action to public health units.
The premier expanded on his lack of confidence in the current governance structure for public health officials in the province, saying that he prefers to look at the "Alberta model" with one medical officer of health, arguing that a system that is centralized would work better. This would doubtlessly ruffle feathers, as it did when the provincial government moved earlier in its mandate to amalgamate public health units, an issue on which it received pushback from local officials, who expressed concern that it would no longer reflect local decision-making.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams declined to assign blame as the premier did, and instead pointed to broader "system issues," including a lack of swabs, imperfect data flow and staffing issues.
Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath argued that the premier was using medical professionals as a shield rather than accepting responsibility. "It was shocking to hear Doug Ford throw Public Health leaders under the bus. He determines how many public health units and labs we have, and how much funding they get, and he’s the one that spent the last year battling these organizations to make cuts to them. The buck stops with Mr. Ford."
Lowest time-of-use rates will be extended, the premier said in his press availability.
In an effort to save households money the government eliminated time-of-use rates — which the premier doesn't like in the first place — so that households would pay only the lowest band. But that order expires in a few days, and with stay-at-home orders still largely in effect, the government will continue its policy.
That continuation will come at a cost, as it will mean foregone revenue for the electricity system. There are also some pandemic knock-on effects in the electricity system, as first reported by QP Briefing, as Class B ratepayers (small industrial and commercial businesses) will have to pay a significantly increased global adjustment to offset the overall reduction in energy use. The government quietly introduced a policy on Friday afternoon to offset that effect that will see some deferred payments from Class B ratepayers that will begin in 2021.
The premier hinted that a broader softening of public health measures could be just a couple weeks away.
Asked about opening up cottage country for the May 24 long weekend — which will begin May 15 this year — the premier said all signs point to yes. "I think we have no choice as long as the numbers are good," he said in a Tuesday morning appearance on the Roz and Mocha radio show. "People pay their taxes, they want to get up north."
Ford added that he would be discussing the issue with cottage country mayors on Thursday. Some municipal officials have expressed concern about an influx of travellers who may overwhelm the local health care system if coronavirus needs arise. On the other hand, the local economy in cottage country also significantly relies on those visitors.
But there won't be good news just for monied cottage owners. The premier also hinted that restrictions on going outside may be loosened in time for the long weekend, adding that social distancing would still need to take place within those parameters.
The premier also acknowledged he's been in talks with pro sports leagues about opening up in Ontario, but the discussions are preliminary. He added on the Roz and Mocha show that his understanding is that the sporting events would initially be played in front of empty stands. "I'm going through withdrawal not seeing any sports games," the premier said, mentioning the Blue Jays and Leafs.
SEIU Healthcare is calling for a public inquiry and criminal investigation following the deaths of frontline workers at long-term care homes.
"A commission is urgently required because until we have a vaccine, or at a minimum, treatment available for the entire population, we must prepare now for consecutive spikes or waves of COVID-19," said SEIU Healthcare President Sharleen Stewart in a statement.
"Both frontline workers and the elderly in our long-term care system are saying the same thing: keep us alive."
Asked about the call for an inquiry and criminal investigation, neither the premier nor Health Minister Christine Elliott addressed the question in an afternoon press conference, and instead chose to re-commit to providing the personal protective equipment that workers need.