Premier Doug Ford is calling on big-city residents and snowbirds to avoid self-isolating at their cottages amid the COVID-19 pandemic — and instead stay in their hometowns.
Ford says he’s been hearing from mayors in towns scattered throughout the province’s extensive cottage country that local health resources are already struggling to keep up with the outbreak and an influx of new arrivals will make the situation worse.
Doctors in some of those communities say they don’t have enough testing kits, protective gear, or other tools necessary to help keep the pandemic at bay.
Ford’s comments come as Ontario reported 135 new COVID-19 cases and three new deaths Friday, including two at the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., a popular tourist destination town in Kawartha Lakes.
At least 14 staff members at the home are also infected, along with three more residents beyond the two who died.
Province-wide, there are at least 993 lab-confirmed cases of the virus so far, including 18 people who have died and another eight who have recovered.
Public health officials say 60 of the province’s 967 active COVID-19 cases were in hospital on Friday.
According to associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe, 43 of those people are in intensive care units — up from 29 on Thursday and 17 on Wednesday — and 32 are currently on ventilators.
Ontario aiming for 5,000 tests a day
The rising number of cases in local ICUs, coupled with a backlog of pending COVID-19 test results and large numbers of residents who haven’t been tested at all, is fuelling concern that the virus has spread more widely than the official numbers suggest.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams said Ontario has started to make progress on the backlog, which dropped for the first time Friday from nearly 11,000 to just over 10,000 pending results.
Health officials say more lab testing sites are opening and Ontario hopes to be doing 5,000 tests a day by the end of the weekend.
Meanwhile, the chair of the province’s COVID-19 command table says postponing elective surgeries has freed up capacity in hospitals, noting there were roughly 400 critical care beds available across the province on Friday.
The current ICU occupancy rate in the province is 68 per cent.
Provincial officials are also working to protect Ontario’s supply chain to ensure front-line health-care workers have much-needed equipment, like ventilators, masks, and swabs, according to a release from the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.
In addition, the province is removing barriers allowing Ontario’s manufacturing sector to redeploy capacity toward the production of healthcare equipment.
“COVID-19 is impacting supply chains across Canada, and around the world,” said Lisa Thompson, Minister of Government and Consumer Services, in a statement on Saturday.
Federal government ramping up travel restrictions
On a country-wide level, the federal government is ramping up travel restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus.
As of noon Monday, anyone exhibiting any signs of illness will not be allowed to board domestic aircraft or trains, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at his Saturday COVID-19 briefing from his Rideau cottage home in Ottawa.
Canadians need to “keep it up” when it comes to physical distancing, he said, though he also conceded there are some small signs that staying apart and staying home are having a positive impact.
Meanwhile Canada’s deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo has delivered a more sobering assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the fight is far from over and that it could include a second wave.
His comments come as the number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases across Canada has surged to more than 4,700 — including 55 deaths.