TORONTO -- Toronto health officials confirmed an additional 199 new cases of COVID-19 and five new deaths on Thursday, pushing the total number of cases in the city to 1,769.

This number includes 1,519 confirmed cases and 250 probable cases. Of those 1,769, the city says that 174 people have been hospitalized, 76 of which are currently receiving treatment in an intensive care unit.

“Sadly there have been a total of 54 deaths from COVID-19 in Toronto,” the city’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

De Villa also commented on long-term care homes in the city that continue to experience the devastating effects of the virus.

“The fatal impact of COVID-19 on our loved ones in long-term care is becoming painfully clear.”

On Wednesday, de Villa confirmed eight more COVID-19-related deaths at a long-term care home in Scarborough. A total of 16 residents of Seven Oaks long-term care home, located near Neilson and Ellesmere roads, have died due to the virus, including eight other deaths confirmed last week. 

“People have asked me how COVID-19 outbreaks can happen in our long-term care homes. This is an important question to ask because the answers can help us better protect our loved ones in these settings.”

De Villa simply stated that outbreaks at these facilities happen “through people”, including those who visit long-term care homes and the staff that works there. De Villa said that while the decision was difficult, the choice to limit family and friends from visiting their loved ones in long-term care homes was essential.

“This was a critical step to reducing the chance of visitors inadvertently bringing the virus into these settings, as unfortunately has happened in some of our long-term care homes.”

De Villa says that the new initiatives undertaken at these facilities, which also include enhanced physical distancing measures and the cancellation of all group activities, are the best defence against the further spread of the virus.

City launches mental health support strategy

The city also unveiled a new mental health strategy to support residents during COVID-19.

“It is OK not be OK,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said Thursday. “I know many people feel isolated, many people feel alone, most people, probably, feel disconnected from perhaps several different things.”

“I know that when you add a holiday weekend to that, that can be a time when it’s particularly tough if you can’t get together, as we’re advising that you don’t, with family and friends.”

The initiative is aimed at supporting the city’s most vulnerable residents, but Tory says the service will be available to the benefit of all Torontonians who may be experiencing stress or anxiety due to the spread of COVID-19.

Residents who are interested in using the service are asked to call 211 or visit the website to be connected to one of seven primary mental health service partners for direct support.

The service partners include Kids Help Phone and Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone, Progress Place Warm Line, Toronto Seniors Helpline, Ontario Psychological Association for frontline workers in community agencies, Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN) for Black residents, Across Boundaries for Black and Indigenous People/Persons of Colour (BIPOC), Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (NCFST) for Indigenous residents and the Gerstein Crisis Centre.

The city says that it considers mental health support to be essential and that all services will be free to residents. 

Update on ‘poor quality’ masks recalled by the city

In Thursday’s news conference, the city also said that a new order of masks had been delivered after some 200,000 surgical masks were recalled over reports of "ripping and tearing” on Tuesday.

“Every morning the emergency operations centre receives a comprehensive inventory report that then is passed along to our strategic command team,” Toronto Fire Chief and Head of the city’s Office of Emergency Management Matthew Pegg said. “This morning’s update shows the replacement masks in inventory, so that’s great news.”

The original order of 200,000 masks, which were described as “poor quality”, included 4,000 boxes containing 50 masks per box and was received on March 28. Of those 200,000, the city said that 62,500 masks (or 1,252 boxes) had been distributed to Toronto’s long-term care homes.

A spokesperson for the city confirmed on Tuesday that the masks were sent to Seven Oaks long-term care home, Kipling Acres long-term care home and Lakeshore Lodge long-term care home.

The masks were used by more than 200 workers before the recall.

Pegg said that with the new shipment, the city’s total inventory of masks should last approximately six to eight weeks.