TORONTO — Ontario extended its state of emergency for another four weeks on Tuesday, as Premier Doug Ford pledged to move more resources to the province’s hard-hit long-term care homes.
Ford said the focus of the fight against COVID-19 has shifted to the province’s more than 600 long-term care facilities where more than 1,200 cases of the virus have been reported.
Ontario must move staff, supplies and funding to address the “wildfire” the illness has become in the homes, he said.
“As long as COVID-19 continues to spread; as long as our seniors and those most vulnerable are at risk, Ontario must remain in the position to take any and all actions necessary to fight this virus,” the premier said.
To that end, Ford said his government would issue a new order Tuesday night deploying more workers to long-term care homes. There are currently 93 outbreaks in such facilities across the province.
Public Health Ontario said there have been 135 deaths in the homes, 813 cases of COVID-19 among residents and 437 cases among staff.
The order will also make it mandatory that staff only work at one facility, Ford said — something several health-care worker unions have been requesting for weeks.
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Both the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and the Ontario Nurses’ Association have warned that letting workers take jobs in multiple homes would only contribute to the spread of the disease among vulnerable seniors.
Ford said the province will increase spending to ensure staff working part time in the homes can have expanded hours.
He also said staff from hospitals that had been preparing for a surge in COVID-19 cases that hasn’t happened yet will be moved to long-term care homes dealing with high numbers of infections.
“We need to get hospital-based care teams to help long-term care staff manage these outbreaks,” the premier said. “I want to see specialized teams deployed into long-term care homes when there’s a serious outbreak.”
Ford said the province’s plan will also include more testing for long-term care residents and enhanced infection control.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said the province’s hospitals, and their specialized work on infection control, will be an asset to long-term care homes.
“If we need more expertise to go out and help with training, education and assessing things … we certainly would like to utilize that resource,” Dr. David Williams said.
The long-term care home where Ford’s mother-in-law lives issued a statement saying 23 residents and 18 staff have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Six residents have died because of the virus, said the executive director of the West Park Long-Term Care Centre in Toronto.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of these residents and regrettably, we anticipate that we may experience more loss before the pandemic is over,” Matt Lamb said in a statement.
Almonte Country Haven outside Ottawa, one of the hardest-hit long-term care homes in the province, said Tuesday that two more residents have died because of the virus, bringing the total number of deaths there to 18.
Meanwhile, Ford also acknowledged the province’s schools won’t reopen in early May as planned, promising a more detailed update from the education minister in the coming days.
“That does not mean the year is cancelled,” Ford said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the legislature extended the state of emergency in the province, which will see non-essential businesses and child-care centres closed for another 28 days until May 12.
Twenty-eight legislators were present at a brief session, including 14 members of the Progressive Conservative government, eight New Democrats, two Liberals, two Independent members and the house Speaker.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her party supported the Progressive Conservative government’s bill to extend the state of emergency, but she called for more supports for people in financial need who aren’t eligible for federal income support.
“The fact is, people were hoping the legislation would rescue them from sleepless nights and payments they just can’t afford,” she said. “It doesn’t. If Ontario doesn’t do more to help, some people will go hungry.”
Ontario reported 483 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and 43 new deaths. That brings the province to a total of 7,953 cases, including 334 deaths and 3,568 cases that have been resolved.
Tuesday’s numbers represented an increase of 6.5 per cent over Monday’s total, continuing a relatively low growth rate over the past several days.