Physical distancing measures are critical to keep Ontario from facing the scale of devastation seen in Italy as number of COVID-19 cases continue to climb, Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference Wednesday.
Ford's comments come as Ontario confirmed 426 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, marking a 21.7 per cent increase in the total number of infections and the largest single-day jump there since the outbreak began.
"Right now, today, there is very little separating what we will face here in Ontario from the devastation we have seen in Italy and Spain," Ford said. "We know a surge is coming."
Pressed by reporters, Ford declined to provide a specific date about when that surge could happen and defended the decision not to release a forecast of the potential number of novel coronavirus cases that the province could see, saying the models vary widely.
Ford added that Ontarians must ultimately decide whether "we go the route of Italy and Spain," and stay home accordingly to stop the spread of the disease.
Wednesday's new cases bring the provincial total to 2,392, including at least 37 deaths and 689 cases that are resolved, as of 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.
There are now 145 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario hospital intensive care units. That's 20 more than the previous day, a 16 per cent jump. Of those in hospital, 98 patients are on ventilators. The number of COVID-19 patients in the province's ICUs is doubling every four days.
And in what is being called the largest outbreak at a long-term care home in Ontario, a total of 14 residents and the spouse of a resident of Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon have died of the virus.
The latest two deaths were reported on Wednesday.
The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit has said at least 24 staff members are also infected.
Discrepancies in death reports expected to narrow
Associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe acknowledged at a news conference the provincial totals may not capture all of the deaths associated with COVID-19 because of some clusters at long-term care homes are not confirmed by testing.
Yaffe said that should change due to a new directive on testing at such homes that would see anyone with symptoms tested for the virus, meaning any such deaths will be lab-confirmed.
At the same time, she emphasized the need for local public health units to input any data into the province's integrated reporting tool to keep numbers as up to date as possible.
A CBC Toronto analysis published Wednesday found that the death toll in long-term care homes is more than double what the province had officially reported this week.
Another 3,135 people are awaiting test results, a drop of 1,145 since the last update. A total of 57,874 tests have been approved.
The province provided this breakdown of the total cases since Jan. 15:
- There's an even split when it comes to male and female patients.
- The median age is 50, ranging in age from less than one to 105 years of age.
- Greater Toronto Area public health units account for 56.0 per cent of cases.
- 11.3 per cent of those who have COVID-19 were hospitalized.
The Ontario Hospital Association said in a statement on 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.
'A race against time'
In his daily briefing Wednesday, Ford announced a $50-million fund to help businesses retool their operations to produce medical equipment and personal protective gear for front-line workers.
The Ontario Together Fund will go to the most viable, innovative proposals that can quickly provide medical supplies and equipment, including gowns, coveralls, face shields and ventilators, the government said in a news release.
Ford also said the province has 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.
How soon those ventilators might become available, Ford didn't say explicitly, calling the process "a race against time."
Ford also said the province is reviewing its list of businesses deemed "essential" and that updates could be coming.
Given the current trends, Ontario's top doctor is imploring local health units to use their legal powers to "implement more aggressive" measures to ensure people with COVID-19 remain isolated, and to trace the contacts infected people have had are tracked more thoroughly.
"We must do more given the ongoing and increasing incidence of community transmission across the province," said Dr. David Williams in a memo to regional medical officers of health Wednesday.
Toronto's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said the city will be issuing those orders to those people, as well as others suspected of having COVID-19.
Meanwhile, anyone being charged under the province's emergency powers is required to identify themselves, Ontario's solicitor general says.
Sylvia Jones says people could face hefty fines if they refuse to give their proper name, date of birth and address if asked by a provincial offences officer. That includes police officers, First Nations constables, special constables and municipal by-law enforcement officers.
Refusing to correctly identify oneself carries a fine of $750 or $1,000 for obstructing any person in exercising a power if a provincial offences officer issues a ticket.
The temporary power was approved by the province yesterday, under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
Further, failure to comply with an emergency order could carry punishments of up to one-year in jail or a fine of up to $100,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a director of a corporation, or $10,000,000 for a corporation itself.
"It is the responsibility of all Ontarians to do their part and respect the emergency orders in place," Jones said in a statement.
The province is also changing testing guidelines at the province's long-term care homes to try to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Under the new rules, which took effect Monday, every resident and staff member who shows symptoms of the virus must be tested, even after an outbreak has already been declared in the home.
Previously, testing was only conducted on the first few symptomatic residents to establish the existence of an outbreak.
Temporary COVID-19 unit
A hospital in Burlington is building a temporary COVID-19 unit in anticipation of a surge of patients.
Joseph Brant Hospital says the structure being built on hospital grounds will have 93 beds.
The hospital's chief of staff, Dr. Ian Preyra, says 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.