Ontario’s top doctor speaks as province reports 538 new COVID-19 cases, testing backlog hits record high

Ontario’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe and Dr. Dirk Huyer are providing an update on COVID-19 beginning at 3 p.m.

CBC News is carrying the news conference live above.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the province’s updated COVID-19 forecasting of some 1,000 new cases per day by October a “wake-up call,” but announced no additional restrictions Thursday.

“Yesterday’s modelling data was a wake-up call,” Ford said at a news conference. “Please don’t let your guard down.”

Speaking to reporters, Ford announced the province will be providing a temporary pay raise for personal support workers, with $3/hr more for 50,000 PSWs in long-term care settings, 38,000 in home care and 34,000 in children’s service. PSWs working in hospitals will receive a raise of $2/hr.

The raise goes into effect Oct. 1 until March 2021, the premier said, calling the $461 million investment a “landmark” one.

The pay enhancement is a temporary move, though Ford hinted that longer-term support could be on the way. The government says the measure will be reviewed on a regular basis and could extend through March 31, 2021.

Asked about the possibility of further restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, Williams said any such moves would be less a rollback to Stage 2 of the province’s reopening plan and more a “targeted” approach to zero in on hot spot areas.

As for whether restaurants could see further limitations around indoor dining, Ford replied, “not right now.”

WATCH | Ontario temporarily raising wages for personal support workers:

Saying Ontario needs to stabilize it’s personal support workforce, Premier Doug Ford announced a $461 million investment to temporarily raise hourly wages for more than 147,000 personal support workers, effective immediately. 2:54

Ontario reported another 538 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as the province’s backlog of tests waiting to be completed grew to a record high of more than 82,000. 

Nearly 70 per cent of newly confirmed cases are in the Greater Toronto Area. The City of Toronto saw the highest number of cases with 229. Meanwhile Peel and York regions reported 101 and 43, respectively. 

Ottawa also confirmed an additional 66 infections of the novel coronavirus. 

Other areas with double-digit increase include:

  • Durham Region: 14
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 14
  • Waterloo Region: 13

Health Minister Christine Elliott said that about 60 per cent of cases in today’s update are in people under 40 years old. The news comes one day after provincial health officials said that an increase in infections in younger people are starting to “spillover” into older demographics, a reality that could put strain on the province’s hospitals in weeks to come. 

Sixty-five of the new cases are school-related, the ministry says, 29 students, 15 staff and 21 people categorized as “individuals not identified.” There has been a total of 448 school-related cases in Ontario, with 307 of the province’s 4828 publicly-funded schools — or about 6.36 per cent — having reported at least one confirmed case.

The government changed one part of its back-to-school policy on Thursday.

Ontario children now no longer need a COVID-19 test to return to school after recovering from a runny nose or nasal congestion, however they do need to remain at home while the symptoms persist, according to the latest guidelines from the health ministry.

Ontario’s network of labs processed 39,646 test samples yesterday. The backlog of tests waiting to be completed grew to more than 82,000, by far the most since the outbreak began in late January. 

The province’s push to ramp up testing capacity comes as the per cent positivity rate of tests has been steadily increasing. The provincewide average is currently about 1.75 per cent, but in areas such as Toronto and Peel it is approaching nearly 3 per cent, health officials said this week. That means that the novel coronavirus is spreading more widely and more quickly there in recent weeks, they explained.

The number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued its upward trend as well, and is now 162 — 12 more than in yesterday’s report and nearly double the figure from just a week ago. Thirty-six of those patients are being treated in intensive care, and 17 are on ventilators.

The province’s official death toll grew by three, and now stands at 2,851. A CBC News count, based on information provided directly by public health units, puts the actual current toll at 2,884. 

Ontario has now seen a total of 52,248 confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which about 85 per cent are considered resolved. Another 515 were marked resolved in today’s report. 

There are currently some 4,975 confirmed, active cases of the illness provincewide, the most since April 30.

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