TORONTO – Premier Doug Ford said Thursday he has asked health officials to deliver a plan for expanded COVID-19 testing next week, after Ontario’s testing rates dropped in recent days and continue to lag well behind its capacity.
Ford said he wants as many members of the public as possible to be tested, including people without symptoms. Until that is done, he said, Ontario can’t get a true picture of how many asymptomatic cases it has.
The premier said he wants to see truck drivers, taxi drivers, front-line health-care staff, automotive workers and those in food manufacturing facilities tested, as well as child-care and school staff once those facilities reopen.
Ford also mused about increased testing by postal code, in hot spots that are “glowing on the map like a lit-up Christmas tree,” even suggesting using mobile testing vans.
“There’s a difference between what I want and what’s going to happen,” he said.
Ford vowed – as he has on several occasions in the past months to ramp up Ontario’s testing levels.
“I’ll be like an 800-pound gorilla on their backs every single day if I have to until I see those numbers go up,” Ford said.
“It’s frustrating, believe me it’s frustrating. But in saying that, I do have confidence in Ontario Health and with the public health (officials).”
Ontario completed 10,506 tests in the previous day, marking a fourth straight day it fell short of its goal of doing at least 16,000, and well short of its capacity of more than 21,000.
A testing blitz of every long-term care resident and staff member was finished over the weekend. Health officials have said they expected to see much more demand for tests under new criteria allowing any symptomatic person to be tested, but it didn’t materialize over the long weekend.
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Ontario reported 413 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, and 31 more deaths. That brings the province to a total of 24,187 cases, which is an increase of 1.7 per cent over the previous day.
Ontario’s growth rate in cases has steadily hovered between 1.5 and 1.9 per cent for 11 of the past 12 days.
Ford acknowledged the numbers are “concerning.” Health Minister Christine Elliott said the effects of Tuesday’s stage one reopening of retail and some other businesses wouldn’t be reflected in the numbers until next week.
But, she said, the chief medical officer remains satisfied the province is still on an overall downward trend.
“It’s not going to be as if it’s all of a sudden going to take a dive and we’re going to be down to number 200 (new cases a day),” she said.
“It’s going to be a slow, incremental pass and all things considered, Dr. (David) Williams is of the view that that’s where we’re headed.”
Williams himself sounded less enthusiastic in his briefing Thursday afternoon.
“We’re pretty well at a plateau, whereas we hoped to keep coming down,” he said. “That is disappointing and we’re trying to get a sense of why that is accruing.”
The Greater Toronto Area still has a fair amount of activity, he said, and public health officials from the city have said some new cases are still residual ones from the long-term care sweep.
“Let’s see if that does evidence out over the next few days and we see a greater shift,” Williams said.
The key to getting back to normal is finding a vaccine, Ford said, as he announced provincial funding for vaccine development and other COVID-19 research projects.
He announced the first 15 proposals to receive funding under Ontario’s $20-million fund. They include developing a vaccine, investigating whether blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients is an effective treatment, developing a rapid test, and food security research.
Ontario’s case total includes 1,993 deaths and 18,509 resolved cases. The numbers of people in hospital, in intensive care and on ventilators with COVID-19 all declined in the past day.
© 2020 The Canadian Press