Premier Doug Ford drew a distinction between Ontarians flouting public health measures through private gatherings and establishments that openly defy the province's COVID-19 rules Tuesday.
The remarks came in response to questions about at Toronto barbeque restaurant owner publicly vowing to keep his doors open amid the province's lockdown for the city.
"They have to follow the rules. There can't be rules for one group and not another," he said at a news conference Tuesday, less forcefully than in other instances where the premier has come out swinging against people throwing large parties or weddings, for example.
"When it comes to private parties, that's a different ball of wax," Ford said. "I'm not going to get up here and start pounding the small business owner when the guy's holding on by his finger nails. I differentiate between someone at home being reckless and having 100 people over and partying and renting a public storage place ... that's reckless.
"I don't condone that he opened up but I feel terrible. My heart breaks for these guys ... these business-owners, believe me. "But please, in saying all that, you've got to follow the protocols and guidelines."
WATCH | Ford comments on Toronto BBQ restaurant vowing to stay open during COVID-19 lockdown:
The restaurant was eventually ordered to shut down by the City of Toronto after bylaw officers, public health inspectors and police were called to the site, city officials said in a statement.
Rapid testing begins, auditor general set to release report
The province also announced Tuesday that it has begun deploying rapid testing in long-term care homes, rural and remote areas — something the premier called a "gamechanger."
The rapid tests, which can produce results in minutes rather than days, have been sent to 36 long-term care homes and 27 retirement homes, as well as some hospitals.
The testing kits are earmarked for a total of 22 hospitals, including two that are already using them, as well as remote communities and some outbreak areas in hot-spot regions, the government said.
Some will also be sent to corporations such as Air Canada and Ontario Power Generation, while others will be used over several months in a pilot project involving private, public and non-profit sector employers to gauge the value of antigen testing on asymptomatic workers, the province said.
Ottawa began shipping the testing kits to the provinces late last month, but figuring out how to best put them to use has taken some time, and most jurisdictions are also verifying the results of rapid tests with a lab-based test.
The "gold-standard" COVID-19 tests need to be processed in a lab, which can take at least a day. Rapid tests can yield results right where the patient is tested but are generally considered less reliable than lab-based tests.
One type of rapid test looks for the genetic material of the novel coronavirus, as does the traditional lab version. The other looks for the specific markers the virus leaves on the outside of a cell, known as antigens.
Ford said the province will continue to deploy the 98,000 ID Now tests and 1.2 million Panbio tests it has received from the federal government in the coming weeks. Health Minister Christine Elliott says another 1.5 million Panbio tests are expected to arrive in Ontario next month.
The announcement comes as a data error resulted in an artificially low daily total of 1,009 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.
It also comes just one day before the province's auditor general is set to issue a three-part report on the province's pandemic emergency preparedness and its response to COVID-19, including lab testing, case management and contact tracing.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said that yesterday's figure of 1,589 cases (which appeared to be a record high) inadvertently included eight-and-a-half extra hours worth of data from Nov. 22, meaning the total count was inflated. Today's number adjusts for the mistake.
The new cases include 497 in Toronto, 175 in Peel Region and 118 in York Region. The seven-day average now sits at 1,395.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:
Waterloo Region: 40
Simcoe Muskoka: 25
Niagara Region: 19
Durham Region: 16
Thunder Bay: 14
[Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.]
Testing falls to about half of capacity
Today's additional cases include 270 that are school-related: 223 students and 47 staff. The Ministry of Education said in a statement that the figure is not a one-day increase. Rather it reflects cases identified in schools from 2 p.m. last Friday to 2 p.m. yesterday, and also some others that were not reported Friday because of professional learning days in some boards, including the Toronto public and Catholic boards.
There are currently 703 publicly-funded schools in Ontario, or about 14.6 per cent, with at least one reported instance of COVID-19. Four schools are closed due to the illness, including one in Windsor with 39 cases, the largest school-related outbreak in the province.
There are now 12,917 confirmed, active cases of the illness provincewide, a slight drop from yesterday as 1,082 cases were marked resolved today.
The further infections in today's update come as Ontario's network of labs processed just 27,053 test samples for the novel coronavirus, and added 29,316 to the queue to be completed. There is currently capacity in the system for up to 50,000 tests daily. Meanwhile, the province reported a test positivity rate of 5.8 per cent.
The official COVID-19 death toll grew by 14, up to 3,519. So far this month, 374 people with COVID-19 have died in Ontario.
Hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 also jumped, up 27 to 534. Of those, 159 are being treated in intensive care and 91 with ventilators. Public health officials have identified 150 patients in ICUs as the threshold for when unrelated surgeries and procedures are likely to be postponed because of burdens on the hospital system.
Meanwhile, a group of engineers, physicians and other professionals issued an open letter to the province Tuesday, calling for updated COVID-19 guidelines that emphasize the importance of ventilation when it comes to curbing the risk of spreading the virus
'With winter approaching, our activities are moving indoors and it is therefore imperative that public institutions, workplaces and individuals understand the risk of aerosol transmission as well as the actions that can be taken to combat it," the letter says.
Backed by 36 professionals, it also calls on the province to mandate and fund ventilation assessments and upgrades of settings like schools and long-term care homes, establishing ventilation standards for reopening, among other measures.