Ontario premier says more COVID-19 testing is needed in long-term care as death toll rises
TORONTO -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province needs to figure out how to implement “100 per cent” COVID-19 testing when it comes to long-term care homes, but stopped short of discussing a threshold for further lockdowns amid a rising number of deaths in those facilities.
“We need to lock this down,” the premier told reporters at a news conference Monday afternoon. “Why do we have an infection? Again, it’s not coming in from the clouds, it’s not coming in from the patients, its coming in from outside.”
“It’s coming in through the staff, it’s coming in through the visitors. It’s the only way it’s coming in. We need to lock it down.”
The premier said he is meeting with staff later on Monday to discuss a plan for more frequent testing at long-term care homes.
Earlier this month, the province said that visitors to long-term care homes in regions with high case numbers will be restricted to staff, essential visitors and caregivers.
They also said each resident is allowed to designate two people as caregivers. They can enter the home regardless of whether or not there is a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.
When making this announcement, Ford urged family members or friends of residents to apply to be caregivers so they can continue visiting these homes.
"We have made it possible for family members or friends to come in as caregivers," he said at the time. "I encourage family members, friends, please, sign up to be a caregiver."
Anyone visiting a long-term care home must undergo a COVID-19 test within two weeks of a visit, pass a screening questionnaire and wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
In the government’s new tiered framework, which was released two weeks ago and altered last week following harsh criticism by health experts, these rules apply to regions in the “orange” and “red” zones.
There was no mention of further restrictions in the tired framework.
In the last week, deaths related to COVID-19 have soared in Ontario. The majority of those deaths are in long-term care homes.
As of Monday, 2,145 of the 3,371 COVID-19-related deaths in the province were residents in long-term care homes.
On Saturday, when health officials reported 29 deaths in a 24-hour period, the highest daily-recorded death toll since mid-June, 20 of those deaths were within the long-term care system.
According to the province, 107 of its 626 long-term care homes are experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.
One long-term care home in Scarborough said this weekend that seven residents have died after contracting the novel coronavirus.
According to Sienna Living, 136 residents of Rockcliffe Care Community have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak was declared on Nov. 2.
There are 204 beds in the nursing home.
More than 60 staff members at Rockcliffe Care Community have also contracted the disease.
When asked about the deaths and what the threshold would be for a full lockdown in long-term care, Ford sidestepped the question, saying instead that the province needs “mandatory 100 per cent testing.”
“No one, the staff, the visitors, no one would ever walk in a long-term care knowing they are not well or that they are showing symptoms,” he said.
“We need 100 per cent testing across the board.”
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott echoed the premier’s call for more testing, saying it is key to discovering the unwilling transmission of the disease.
Elliott said the government hopes to use some of the 100,000 rapid COVID-19 tests the province received to provide quick diagnosis for long-term care staff and visitors.
The comments were made by the premier and minister of health following an announcement about the establishment of a new centralized procurement agency called “Supply Ontario,” that hopes to streamline the process of gaining access to PPE in the province.