Another plea to download the COVID-19 app
Premier Doug Ford appeared for his daily presser alongside Jamaal Magloire, a former NBA All-Star and a team ambassador for the Toronto Raptors. The two urged Ontarians to wear a mask, socially distance and download the COVID-19 contact tracing app.
"I'd like to thank you guys, make sure that you're safe, and hopefully that we can get together under better circumstances one day," said the 6'11" Magloire, hunched over the podium to reach the microphone.
After the camera panned back down to get the premier in frame, Ford called Magloire an "all-star," which is perhaps the first time the premier has been literally correct in deploying his signature commendation.
Premier Doug Ford just speculated that Jamaal Magloire, a former NBA all-star alongside him for today's announcement, could have a future in politics.
— David Hains (@DavidHains) October 15, 2020
Ford shouted out a number of companies for promoting the app, noting that it has been downloaded almost 4.5 million times in Canada so far — about 16 per cent of the population in provinces where it's available, Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy noted.
Over 1,000 people have entered their diagnoses in the app in Ontario, notifying tens of thousands of people that they were at risk, Bethlenfalvy said.
Bethlenfalvy also promised more information in the coming weeks about efforts to digitize government services — something he's been promoting as of late.
A warning for food delivery apps
"I always ask nicely, then I start begging, and then I put down the hammer."
Ford said this was "warning number two" for food delivery companies like Uber Eats who charge restaurants "upwards of 30 per cent" for their services, while restaurants are struggling during the pandemic.
Ford, who asked the companies earlier this week to lower their rates, said he hasn't gotten any commitments yet — though Now reports that SkipTheDishes has offered restaurants in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel a 25 per cent discount on commission rates.
“Don’t be greedy, because I can’t stand when people are greedy,” the premier said.
New cases in Ontario
There were 783 new cases in the province on Wednesday, said Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe. They were mostly in Toronto, Peel, Ottawa and York, which set a record high with 127 new cases. Almost 40,000 tests were completed.
Other regions like Durham, Halton and eastern Ontario are also seeing "high and increasing case counts" in the double digits, she said.
It's "concerning" that the percentage of people testing positive across the province is rising, hitting about three per cent, Yaffe said.
There are now 253 people in hospital — up 22 from yesterday, she said.
Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer added that there were 26 new outbreaks in the province, which is "substantial" as the daily number is usually in the single digits.
Though Ontarians have heard the advice "1,000 times," Yaffe again reiterated the need for people to wash their hands, wear a mask and minimize going out.
She noted that the new 28-day restrictions in hot spots may have to be extended if things don't improve.
Ottawa's high rate of infections
The government is "very concerned" about Ottawa's high rate of infection, Health Minister Christine Elliott said.
The area is seeing increased hospitalizations and more cases are getting into long-term care homes, she said.
The rates could be due to bars, restaurants, gyms or social activities like children's birthday parties, Elliott said, again stressing the need to follow physical distancing guidelines.
"Really, if you can, just get together with your own household," she said.
Hot spot residents invading other regions
Work out at home — that was Ford's message to residents of hot spot areas under new lockdown measures who have been travelling to other places to go to the gym.
Elliott said the government will take action if it needs to, and is watching the situation carefully.
Ford reminded Ontarians that if the virus spreads more into other regions, he won't hesitate to turn them back to stage two as well.
"But again, we can't police 14-and-a-half million people," he said, asking people again to follow public health guidelines.
Health officials said on Wednesday that they're considering new guidelines for gyms after a major outbreak tied to a Hamilton spin studio.
Yaffe said she hopes those new measures will be announced "very soon."
York on notice
"York's teetering right now," Ford said of the region which reported a record 127 new cases on Wednesday, implying that it may soon join Toronto, Ottawa and Peel back in a modified stage two. "And they’ve been teetering for a little while.”
He noted that he'll be meeting with Elliott after the presser, and will hear from the health command table soon.
"So we're keeping an eye, a very close eye on York right now. It’s concerning,” he said.
Yaffe said officials are particularly concerned about York and Halton regions and are working on recommendations for government "as soon as possible for a decision regarding those areas."
Green leader Mike Schreiner released a statement calling on Ford to impose new restrictions in the area soon.
"I am sure the premier regrets not acting sooner to contain the second wave in Toronto and Ottawa, and he must learn from his mistake to protect people and businesses elsewhere," he said.
Testing numbers will be back up soon, Elliott promises
As testing numbers dipped between 30,000 and 40,000 this past week, Elliott said it may be due to the Thanksgiving long weekend, as people had plans other than getting tested.
"But I'm sure that the numbers will be back up close to 50,000 again within the very next few days," she said.
The government had set a goal of processing 50,000 tests per day by mid-October, and 68,000 by mid-November — down from its original goal of up to 100,000 tests per day in the summer.
Long-Term Care crowding
At a media briefing, Yaffe said the Ministry of Long-Term Care has been advised to expand its directive banning admissions to long-term care homes into ward rooms that are already occupied by at least two people.
Yaffe said it should be clarified to apply to internal transfers within homes. It comes after QP Briefing reported that residents are still living in crowded ward rooms at a Toronto long-term care home that has seen one of the worst outbreaks of the second wave — a practice both the Ontario government and outside experts say puts them at greater risk. QP Briefing previously reported that some long-term care homes say they're under pressure to increase admissions to their homes — even if it would mean housing residents three or four to a room, by transferring them internally.
"It's for even transferring people internally, they should not be having more than two people per room, but that is something I will followup again with the Ministry of Long-Term Care," she said.
QP Briefing reported that Fairview Nursing Home, owned by Schlegel Villages, is experiencing one of the worst outbreaks of the second wave and that have four beds, eight were occupied by three people and seven were fully occupied as of Wednesday.
One of the reasons overcrowded homes are a risk is that it is harder to cohort residents to keep the sick away from the healthy — and a spokesperson for Schlegel Villages told QP Briefing it hasn't always been possible at Fairview, so the home has been installing "wall dividers" between COVID-positive and negative residents living in the same room.
Flu shots costs
The president of the Ontario Medical Association says administering the flu vaccine is especially complicated this year.
Dr. Samantha Hill said she's heard concerns from family doctors that they aren't getting enough vaccines, quickly enough. Shipments have gone first to pharmacies, so some doctors have to weigh concerns about sending vulnerable patients to public pharmacies, or wait until they’re available at their clinics.
The timing of the release of the vaccines is creating a "temporary choke point" as many people Ontarians are seeking the shots as soon as possible.
The silver lining, according to Hill, is that many people do seem to be getting the message that the flu vaccine could prevent a "twindemic" — referring to both the flu COVID-19 — from overwhelming the health-care system.
And for that, she's "really proud" of Ontarians, she said.
Hill said family doctors are facing other challenges. Normally, doctors' waiting rooms can be filled with people, making the process efficient, but the COVID-19 pandemic means visits need to be spaced and out and extra time is needed for the use of personal protective equipment.
As a result, some are contemplating opening drive-thru or after hours clinics to expedite the vaccination process, but they need financial support from the province, according to Hill.
"Right now pharmacists are being paid more than doctors are to administer these vaccines," she said.
In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Health stressed the province's almost $70 million to "purchase flu vaccines to deliver the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history," but it did not address a question regarding providing additional funding for family doctors.
"The ministry receives its allocation of influenza vaccines from manufacturers based on annual production, the official release from Health Canada and delivery schedules. Each year the province receives its supply of influenza vaccine in multiple shipments from manufacturers starting in mid-to-late September, and continuing through October and into November," the statement said.
"In late September, the first shipments of flu vaccines started being delivered to public health units, long-term care homes and hospitals to prioritize vulnerable populations. Broader community distribution of the flu shot, including to primary care providers and pharmacies, is currently being rolled out and will continue in the coming weeks. The province will explore the purchase of additional doses as required," it continued. "Increasing the locations where Ontarians can receive a flu shot increases access for patients and spreads out the demand for the product across our health care providers. This reduces immunization service demands in any one sector, which is important given the province’s COVID-19 response and public health measures."
New cybersecurity panel
The government has appointed 10 members to a panel to help modernize cybersecurity across the Ontario Public Sector, it announced in a release. The members will serve for up to two years and will report Minister of Government and Consumer Services Lisa Thompson.
"Our government is committed to strengthening our cybersecurity infrastructure. As the threats of cyber-attacks and hacking become more frequent globally, it's imperative that we take action now to improve our defences within the broader public sector," Thompson said in the release.
The panel will submit a final report to Thompson in the fall of 2022, with findings and recommendations to address common vulnerabilities. The report will be public.
200 more transitional care beds
Ontario is adding over 200 more transitional care beds, which are designed for people who no longer need to be in a hospital, but are waiting to transition to home, community or long-term care.
The beds will be spread across five new reactivation care centres — one in each of the Hamilton, Toronto, Newmarket, Kingston and Sudbury regions, Elliott announced on Thursday.
The majority of the beds are expected to be completed in 2021-22.
-With files from Jessica Smith Cross