By Sneh Duggal and Jessica Smith Cross
Ontario announced 441 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, continuing an upward trend over the week and leaving the province with a total of 24,628 cases. The province also recorded 28 deaths, bringing the total to 2,021.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said that the small "surge" may be due to positive cases coming in from the province's survey of long-term care homes, along with additional community cases. However, he also noted that the number of people going to assessment centres to be tested has not gone up since the province announced that anyone with symptoms can be tested, and the province is looking at some ways to clarify communication on that issue.
Virtual training and supports
The provincial government is partnering with UNITE HERE Local 75, a union representing workers in the hospitality industry in hotels, restaurants, racetracks, casinos and airport concessions, to launch a "Virtual Action Centre."
The government is providing nearly $2 million in funding for the online counselling and training portal aimed at helping the 7,000 or so unemployed workers in the industry. The virtual centre will provide services like health and stress management resources along with training in technical and digital skills, English language and health and safety.
"The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating for many business owners, workers, and families, and that's why we are doing everything we can to help people through this difficult period," said Premier Doug Ford. "Hospitality workers and our skilled tradespeople have been among those hardest hit by this pandemic. These new programs will ensure they're ready to get back on the job and play an important role in our economic recovery."
The premier and Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton also announced $2.5 million for this year through the Ontario Tools Grant, which apprentices can tap into to buy equipment they need for their jobs.
As for the nearly thousands of apprentices who owe money through the "Loans for Tools Program," they won't have to worry about coughing up the funds anymore. The government said it is forgiving more than $10 million in tool loans.
"If we are going to rebuild our economy, we must reach out and help the workers and businesses that are suffering as a result of COVID-19," said McNaughton.
What about the dads?
Leading into today's announcement about the supports for apprentices and those in the hospitality sector, Ford spoke of how blessed the province is to have some of the "hardest working people out there."
He segued to giving a shout-out to mothers in the province, who he called the "real heroes."
"Every day despite everything you’re dealing with you find a way to make it all work. You’re keeping the kids safe and healthy, while homeschooling and keeping up with tasks around the house, and for many of you balancing a full day of work on top of all that," Ford said, going on to thank all of Ontario's mothers.
The premier's appreciation, however, did raise a few eyebrows on social media. While no one challenged the praise toward mothers, some were left wondering: what about the fathers? One Queen's Park press gallery reporter also weighed in.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford thanks mothers for working from home, while managing childcare and housework.
"To all the moms out there, you're true heroes."
(Meanwhile, I just put my son down for a nap, and am preparing to make homemade pizza dough with my daughter)
— Colin D'Mello CTVNews (@ColinDMello) May 22, 2020
Nurses weigh in on the government's independent commission
Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) is calling on the province to ensure that the independent commission into long-term care that it plans to establish in September is "a full public inquiry that is truly independent."
As QP Briefing recently reported, the government hasn't made the details of what the "independent commission" will be clear yet — provincial legislation gives cabinet discretion on how to empower the commission and there is wide range of historical precedents. However, the Ford government has made clear it is not interested in a lengthy public inquiry.
"Not all commissions are created equal," said ONA President Vicki McKenna in a press release, "and we expect to see a full public inquiry that is truly independent. We need to get to the bottom of what led to the rampant devastation of residents and health-care workers in long-term care homes across the province."
"The scope and authority will be key to the outcome of this inquiry," she said. "Ontario has held multiple inquiries into long-term care — most recently, the Inquiry into the Safety and Security of Residents in Long-Term Care. However, substantive changes to improve the long-term care sector have yet to be seen."
Meanwhile, The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) issued a press release applauding the government’s announcement.
The "RNAO expects the fully independent commission – set to begin in September – will be provided with broad and comprehensive terms of reference to examine both the government and the health-system response to COVID-19, as well as the long-standing systemic shortfalls within the sector," it said. "The members selected to participate in the commission should be widely respected experts on the topic."
The Registered Nurses said the commission should consider the low prioritization of long-term care in the response to COVID-19 and the delays in making personal protective equipment and testing available, as well as the sector's "archaic" funding model, staffing issues, management and regulatory issues and facility standards.