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 over 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.
“The sad truth is our long-term care homes are quickly turning into the front line.”
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.
The sad truth is our long-term care homes are quickly turning into the front line.Premier Doug Ford
Public Health Ontario said that 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.
Both the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and the Ontario Nurses’ Association have warned for weeks that letting workers take jobs in multiple homes would only contribute to the spread of the pandemic among vulnerable seniors.
Ford said the province will increase spending to ensure staff working part-time in the homes can have expanded hours.
Video: Premier Doug Ford says Ontario will extend state of emergency. Story continues after video.
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,” he 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.
He 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.
Non-essential businesses closed until May 12
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.
The government also passed legislation to change some regulations for school boards, post-secondary institutions and municipalities during the pandemic.
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.
If Ontario doesn’t do more to help, some people will go hungry.Andrea Horwath
“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.”
Horwath also urged the government to boost wages for long-term care workers.
“We have to pay them well enough so that they don’t need to moonlight at a second facility,” she said.
Ford told reporters that he “personally” believes that workers should be paid enough to survive working only one job, but that he would take his advice from the government’s health officials.
Meanwhile, 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.
The province has said it will do 8,000 tests daily by Wednesday, but just under 5,000 were completed in the last 24 hours.
Ford expressed frustration last week that Ontario has been testing for COVID-19 well below its capacity of 13,000 a day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2020.
With a file from Emma Paling