Ontario extends state of emergency by 2 weeks as number of COVID-19 cases now 1,706

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has extended the provincial state of emergency by two weeks as his government continues to grapple with a rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The province confirmed 351 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the provincial tally to 1,706 — the largest single-day increase since the outbreak began.

Provincial health officials also announced 10 more deaths on Monday afternoon, bringing the total to 33. The province says 431 cases are resolved.

The state of emergency, declared on March 17, had been set to expire Tuesday. The declaration, along with other emergency orders announced by the province, will now be in place until April 13.

In a news release on Monday night, Ford announced a new emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. The order closes all outdoor recreational amenities, such as sports fields and playgrounds, effective immediately.

He said the extension of the declared emergency and the new emergency order are based on the advice of Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health.

According to the news release, the new order closes all communal or shared, public or private, outdoor recreational amenities in Ontario. These include playgrounds, sports fields, basketball and tennis courts, off-leash dog parks, beaches, skateboard and BMX parks, picnic areas, outdoor community gardens, park shelters, outdoor exercise equipment, condo parks and gardens, and other outdoor recreational amenities.

Green spaces in parks, trails, ravines and conservation areas that aren't closed are to remain open for people to walk through, but people must maintain a distance of at least two metres apart. Ontario's provincial parks and conservation reserves remain closed.

"I made a commitment to be open and upfront about what we need to do as a province to beat this virus," Ford said.

"We all need to work together and do our part to stop COVID-19 by staying home, practising physical distancing, and avoiding social gatherings."

Ford told reporters that the provincial government will assess every two weeks whether the state of emergency should be extended.

"It goes two weeks at a time," Ford told reporters on Monday.

The province has also changed the way it is reporting cases. Its online page now includes more demographic data and trends.

Similarly, while Ontario was reporting updated numbers twice per day, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon, new numbers will now only be provided once per day at 10:30 a.m. ET.

Of Ontario's 1,706 confirmed cases:

  • 50.2 per cent are male, while 49.1 per cent are female.

  • The median age is 50, ranging in age from less than 1 to 100 years of age.

  • Greater Toronto Area public health units account for 61.4 per cent of all cases.

  • Of all cases, 26.3 per cent had travelled in the 14 days prior to becoming ill; 9.6 per cent had close contact with a confirmed case; 16.2 per cent had neither and 47.9 per cent have exposure information pending.

Ford, who spoke at a news conference Monday afternoon, said the province is now advising anyone over the age of 70, or anyone with an underlying health condition, to stay home and self isolate.

Ford said measures have to be ramped up in the face of increasing numbers of cases.

"We need to protect them," he said.

Provincial public health officials said Monday afternoon that Ontario's labs have conducted 4,000 tests in the last 24 hours. Williams said that given the number of tests conducted, it's "not surprising" to see the number of positive tests jump.

"Some of that was due to backlog," he said.

At one point, Ontario had over 11,000 tests for COVID-19 pending. The province hopes to "get rid of the backlog totally," Williams said. As of Monday afternoon, the province was reporting a backlog of 5,651 tests.

"Once priority testing is done," Williams said, the province could then "contemplate" wider testing.

Meanwhile, nine residents of a long-term care home in Ontario cottage country have died of COVID-19 complications and that number is likely to increase, the facility's medical director says.

All of the deaths at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, about 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto, occurred since last Wednesday, said Dr. Michelle Snarr.

"There will be more deaths. It's grim, it's heartbreaking. We get more heartbreaking news all the time," she said in an interview on Monday morning.

"There may have been more by now. Several were close to death last night," she continued, explaining that she hadn't yet received the day's update from nurses inside the facility.

Paul Smith/CBC
Paul Smith/CBC

As of last week, at least 34 of the facility's 66 staff members were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, CBC Toronto previously reported.

The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Health Unit said Monday that 24 staff had tested positive for COVID, while test results are pending for 10 other staffers. Six others have tested negative.

Snarr said that staff who are able to continue working are doing everything they can given limited resources.

"The residents who are dying, they are being kept comfortable."

It's not clear how the novel coronavirus got in to the home, she said, but it has already had a devastating impact.

"I've been in practice for 32 years," Snarr said. "I've seen a lot of bad stuff happen, but I don't remember anything with this level of sadness."

And it is not only residents and staff of the nursing home who have been affected. Jean Pollock, whose husband lives at Pinecrest, was a frequent visitor and volunteer at the facility.

She fell ill on her 82nd birthday on March 17, and learned last week that she had contracted the novel coronavirus. She died at Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay on Saturday morning.

Laura Howells/CBC
Laura Howells/CBC

Pollock's daughter, Pam Smith, was driving from Vancouver to be by her mother's side when she learned she had died.

The two spoke on the phone shortly before Pollock's death.

"She said, 'I'm going downhill quick.' So I told her that I loved her," Smith recalled. "She was pretty afraid. She was really struggling."

Smith fought back tears as she reflected on the health-care workers that tried to help her mother.

"If I could say anything about this experience — other than losing my mom — it would be that the kindness of people at Ross Memorial ... they were so kind to her, and so kind to me," she said.

"They were just true, true amazing humans."

The Ontario health ministry says there are cases of COVID-19 at 23 long-term care homes across the province.

Ford also pleaded with Ontario residents to stay home and practice physical distancing when he spoke Monday. He said some streets and parts of Toronto, especially by Lake Ontario, were "packed" on Sunday, and that is "unacceptable."

Ford said the government is "prepared to take further action" if the spread of the virus doesn't slow down. When asked if a mandatory stay home order was on the table, the premier said that he will take direction from provincial medical experts.

"We understand some over the weekend were less than vigilant," Williams said.

Toronto had 591 cases of the coronavirus as of Monday, according to the city.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, said about 24 per cent of all cases in Toronto are due to community transmission.

She added that 12 doctors, 13 nurses, six other health care workers, eight Toronto Public Health officials and a shelter worker have all tested positive.

Six people have died in Toronto from the virus, 67 are in hospital, and 30 are in intensive care units. A CBC Toronto investigation found there may far more COVID-19 patients in ICUs than official numbers show.