The province is opening parks and conservation reserves to the public starting Monday, Premier Doug Ford announced Saturday.
"These places will be open for walking, hiking, birdwatching and biking," he said. "People will be able to once again, enjoy the outdoors in one of our many beautiful parks and conservation reserves, our province has to offer. But please take note that access will be limited for now. Camping playgrounds, and beaches, will continue to be closed. Public health measures must be followed at all times, including practicing physical distancing avoiding social gatherings and staying home if you're sick,"
We're trusting people to be responsible and take this seriously, so they can enjoy themselves while staying safe and healthy."
More than 500 parks will open on May 11, with the other 115 opening on May 15.
Parks Minister Jeff Yurek asked Ontarians to avoid unnecessary travel and visit only the parks closest to them, and warned that they will not have the usual amenities open. "While staff are working as hard as they can to get provincial parks ready to open, they will not have a washroom, or drinkable water right away," he said. "It's important that you come to the park prepared with hand sanitizer, extra water, and other supplies, just in case."
Ford said the reopening of parks was another step the process of safely reopening the province.
"We're reopening more and more of our province, as it becomes safe to do so," said Ford. "You put your trust in us. We're putting our trust in you, because we're all in this together."
On Saturday, the province announced 346 new COVID-19 cases, a 1.8 per cent increase from Friday, for a total of 19,944 confirmed cases, with nearly new 20,000 test results in the last day. There were 59 additional deaths, for a total of 1,599.
Premier's message to moms
Ford took a moment at his Saturday press conference to wish moms a happy Mother's Day, "in these dark days, now, more than ever."
"To the moms out there, all the wonderful caring mothers, you are rocking every day without fail," he said. "You're there, putting everyone else before yourself, giving comfort, support and love to all of us during a time when we need it most."
"I know that this period has been especially challenging for you every day," he continued. "You put on a brave face. You get up every morning and you put your families and loved ones first for everything you do. Thank you. So please everyone, I have one request: let's make tomorrow, the most special, the most incredible Mother's Day weekend.
"Thank you and God bless all the amazing moms, and God bless the people of Ontario."
Keeping daycares afloat, while they remain closed
Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a plan, in partnership with the federal and municipal government, to keep licensed child care centres afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The province has already prohibited care centres charging parents while there is an emergency order in effect barring most from operating, except for those providing free emergency care for children of essential workers.
On Saturday announced financial support to cover their fixed costs, while requiring them to take advantage of the federal pandemic supports that are available, including the wage and rental subsidies. The province is also waiving fees and licence renewals during the pandemic.
"We are taking action to protect local child care spaces for parents as they return to work," said Lecce. "Our plan is focused on two objectives. The first was focused on saving parents money by prohibiting child care providers from charging families during the closure period. The second objective was focused on protecting child care spaces across our province, so families can re-enter the workforce with confidence that local centres will be accessible and safe."
The funding each centre will receive will be determined on a case-by-case basis, said Lecce.
Lecce did not say when child care centres will be allowed to open, but said the plan is in place for the "coming months." He also did not say if schools will reopen after the May 29, but said the government is working on a plan for when that does happen.
An announcement is expected next week.
New emergency order will allow education workers to be redeployed
As schools remain closed, education support staff including custodial and maintenance workers can volunteer to work in congregate care settings such as long-term care homes and women's shelters, according to a new emergency order issued by the province.
"Our priority continues to be protecting our most vulnerable citizens and the dedicated staff that care for them during the COVID-19 outbreak," said Premier Ford. "Many of our long-term care homes, and shelters are short of staff, so I am encouraging any available educational workers to help out if you can, because you can make a real difference in the lives of those most in need."
The order allows school boards to develop and implement staff redeployment plans. Workers who step up will continue to receive their compensation and other employment benefits, as well as pandemic pay and emergency child care, the ministry of education said in a press release. They will also receive training and safety equipment.
Drug dispensing costs
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province plans to help seniors who are paying higher costs for prescription medication during the pandemic because pharmacies are only dispensing one month's supply at a time. She said the province is working on a plan that would help seniors with the higher costs until drug shortages become less of a problem, so that medications can be dispensed in three-month supplies.
For-profit long-term care
Ford was asked about research showing there has been a higher rate of COVID-19 deaths in for-profit long-term care homes, than non-profit and municipal homes.
"Everything's gonna be reviewed after we get through this," he replied.
He said that review should include the homes that haven't had COVID-19 infections, to "find out what they're doing right and find out what the other ones did wrong."
"But it's happening all around the world," he said. "It just gets into these long term care homes and goes through there like an Australian bushfire. It's terrible. And we're doing everything we can to protect the people there."
He said the review would be a "massive undertaking" and reiterated his call for federal support of the long-term care system.
Yes, Prime Minister
There was a brief moment of levity in Saturday's press conference when a Francophone reporter referred to Ford as "prime minister," a literal translation of the French term for premier, "premier ministre," and Ford interjected to say, "Not yet."
When the reporter stopped her question, Ford clarified what he'd said: "Prime Minister and I just said not yet. Thank you."
The comment will surely encourage the on-again-off-again rumours of Ford's federal political ambitions.