Health Minister Christine Elliott announced a shift in coronavirus testing eligibility today as critics decried the lack of progress on the issue.
The minister took to Twitter to share what was pitched as positive news, saying that now anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms can be tested.
As we plan for a gradual reopening, today the Chief Medical Officer of Health will expand #COVID19 testing guidelines so that anyone with symptoms can be tested. Doing so will help identify and contain new cases and monitor any shifts in community spread to keep Ontarians safe.
— Christine Elliott (@celliottability) May 14, 2020
But the announcement acted as a reminder that it has taken a few months to reach this capability. Previously, assessment centres would test only some people who had symptoms and would advise others who do to stay home. The approach was inconsistent, with the ministry of health leaving it up to individual physicians to choose what worked best.
Ontario has been widely criticized for its lack of testing capability, with Premier Doug Ford taking aim at the issue a few times, blaming the civil service and local chief medical officers of health. The government has failed multiple times to reach its targets for testing. After missing its target of 16,000 tests the previous three days, the province hit it today. There were 258 additional positive cases and 35 fatalities, according to Ministry of Health data.
On Tuesday, Green Leader Mike Schreiner urged the government to pursue more contact tracing and testing to ensure lifting public health measures can be done safely. "We cannot send people back to crowded workplaces without promising to keep them safe," he stated. "The demand for tests will go up as more people go back to work, and we must be able to guarantee that testing and contact tracing will happen quickly and efficiently."
Similarly, Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath called for testing to "dramatically" increase.
Everyone is eager to start easing restrictions, but Doug Ford needs to dramatically ramp up testing and contact tracing to make it safer for everyone when we do that. No one wants to see Ontario take one step forward and two steps back. #COVID19Ontario https://t.co/5Kd9QefHAR
— Andrea Horwath (@AndreaHorwath) May 14, 2020
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is calling for sweeping changes at long-term care homes in response to the devastation wrought by the pandemic.
The union, which represents 3,500 long-term care workers, made a series of 23 recommendations for reform in the province's long-term care homes, which have accounted for around two-thirds of Ontario's coronavirus fatalities.
"Decades of mismanagement, neglect and reckless profiteering have created a kind of Wild West in the sector," OPSEU President Smokey Thomas stated. "It must be cleaned up now, no more lives can be lost because of a profits first, people second approach."
Chief among the union's recommendations is to return long-term care homes and home care to the public sector, reversing a move that was made under the Mike Harris PC government. "When for-profit corporations buy up long-term care facilities, the first thing they do is look for ways to make money – which means cutting corners on resident care and paying staff as little as possible," said OPSEU vice-president Eddy Almeida.
The government has acknowledged change is in order, with Ford referring to the system as "broken." But they've so far resisted calls for an independent public inquiry, preferring to pursue a "review" instead.
Another PSW has died
In sad news out of London, another personal support worker has died due to COVID-19.
The worker, Maria, had worked at Sisters of St. Joseph and worked in the field for 16 years. Her last name was not released.
Horwath mourned his passing in a statement. "My heart breaks for the family, friends and loved ones of Maria," she said. "Ontario must never forget the health care heroes that have lost their lives during this pandemic. They will be remembered, and they will be deeply missed."
Bus service back
In non-COVID news, Northwestern Ontario will be able to hitch a ride on the bus again.
The Ontario Northland Transportation Commission announced Thursday that it would expand bus service between White River to Thunder Bay and Thunder Bay to Winnipeg. There will be two Thunder Bay to Winnipeg trips per week, and three for Thunder Bay to White River.
"People in Northern Ontario deserve access to safe and reliable public transportation that connects them to employment opportunities, medical appointments and other essential services," stated Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney.