TORONTO — Ontario and its municipalities stepped up legal measures Wednesday to stop the spread of COVID-19, while expanding hospital capacity and increasing medical supply production, as Premier Doug Ford warned of a coming surge.
Ford said thousands of lives are at stake.
"The hard truth is right now, today, there's very little separating what we will face here in Ontario from the devastation we've seen in Italy and Spain," he said.
"The actions we take today, what we do as a government and as a people today, will determine what we face tomorrow. These next two weeks will be absolutely critical, because we know a surge is coming."
Ontario reported 426 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, including four new deaths. The provincial total is now 2,392, including 37 deaths and 689 cases that have been resolved.
Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., reported two more deaths among residents Wednesday, for a total of 14, with at least 24 staff members infected. The spouse of a resident has also died.
Those two deaths were not included in the provincial total reported earlier in the day.
As of Wednesday morning there were 332 people with COVID-19 in hospital, with 145 of them in intensive care and 98 of those patients on ventilators.
Neither Ford nor Health Minister Christine Elliott would give projections for the number of cases or deaths that Ontario could face, saying there are several different models. Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said he hoped to have projections to make public next week.
Williams sent a letter Wednesday to the province's local medical officers of health "strongly recommending" they use powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to require COVID-19 patients and their close contacts to self-isolate.
Toronto's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said the city will be issuing such orders to those people, as well as others suspected of having COVID-19.
De Villa urged the province to reduce the number of businesses allowed to stay open — Ford said he will be adjusting the essential workplaces list in the next day or so — and echoed a message from Williams earlier this week that everyone should only leave their homes for essential purposes.
"I am saying in the strongest possible terms for the public to stay home as much as possible and only to go out for the most essential of needs," she said.
De Villa said such measures may need to be in place for up to 12 weeks.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city has drafted a bylaw that it could use to enforce physical distancing measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The neighbouring city of Brampton has enacted a bylaw that prohibits people from being within two metres of each other on public property, other than people they live with, with penalties of up to $100,000.
The province has announced that people being charged with violating state of emergency orders, such as running non-essential businesses and gathering in groups larger than five, will be required to identify themselves to police or bylaw enforcement officers.
Failure to comply will carry a fine of $750 and obstructing an officer from issuing a ticket will carry a $1,000 fine.
In anticipation of a surge in patients, Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ont., is building a temporary COVID-19 unit with 93 beds.
The hospital's chief of staff, Dr. Ian Preyra, said the pandemic response unit will allow the hospital to keep its critical care and high acuity beds for the sickest patients.
The Ministry of Health is also allowing all public hospitals to lease or acquire temporary space in institutions or other buildings, such as hotels or retirement homes.
The ministry says hospitals could use those spaces to house COVID-19 or other patients.
Ontario launched a $50-million fund Wednesday to help businesses retool their operations to produce medical equipment and personal protective gear for front-line workers.
The province has also worked with the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association to get ventilators produced and Ontario recently ordered 10,000 of the machines from O-Two Medical Technologies.
Meanwhile, the association that represents Ontario's hospitals said it is "extremely concerned" that many of the facilities are running low on personal protective equipment.
The Ontario Hospital Association said in a statement Wednesday that as the number of COVID-19 cases in acute care units rises, many hospitals are experiencing the equipment shortage, with masks in especially limited supply.
The association is calling on the federal and provincial governments to clearly communicate when new supplies will be provided to specific hospitals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2020.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press