An Ontario hospital employee has become the province's first-known health-care worker to die of COVID-19 as the province confirmed 483 new cases Thursday and reported 4,097 more tests completed — considerably less than the daily capacity of 13,000 tests per day.
The new cases bring the province's total to 5,759. The province is reporting 26 new deaths Thursday, however CBC News has counted 223 deaths based on data from local public health units.
Some 2,305 cases are considered resolved, or about 40 per cent of Ontario's total COVID-19 cases. Another 1,208 people are awaiting test results.
On Thursday, William Osler Health System announced the death of a worker at Brampton Civic Hospital from complications linked to COVID-19, marking the first time an Ontario hospital has confirmed the death of one of its workers amid the pandemic.
"The health-care worker, a long-time environmental services associate with Osler's Brampton Civic Hospital, was being cared for in Brampton Civic Hospital's intensive care unit," the organization said in a statement.
The province is also reporting 69 outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term care homes.
Among them is Almonte Country Haven, west of Ottawa, which has reported 10 COVID-19-related deaths since March 29. Pinecrest nursing home in Bobcageon, Ont., which has been ravaged by the virus, reported an additional death Thursday, bringing its total number of dead to 29.
And in Toronto, at the Mon Sheong Home for the Aged, four people are confirmed to have died from the virus. The home reported the deaths Thursday, saying 16 residents and two staff members have tested positive.
Also Thursday, the St. Clair O'Connor Community home in Scarborough reported three more residents have died following a COVID-19 outbreak there, bringing the number of dead due to the novel coronavirus at the facility to seven.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the province says 632 people have been hospitalized due to the virus.
264 are in intensive care units.
214 are on ventilators.
More than 400,000 jobs lost in past month
At a news conference Thursday, Premier Doug Ford spoke to the 402,800 jobs lost since the outbreak of the virus in Ontario, calling the numbers "a punch in the gut."
Ford announced the the launch of the "Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee," led by Finance Minister Rod Phillips, which will be tasked with charting a course to stimulate economic growth and job-creation following the pandemic.
"Things could get worse before they get better," Ford said. And while the focus now is on beating the pandemic itself, the province is also looking at how to get the economy back on track once the crisis ends.
Ford also confirmed that Dr. Peter Donnelly is temporarily stepping aside from his post as president and CEO of Public Health Ontario for medical reasons, calling him an "absolute champion."
Donnelly became a familiar face to Ontarians last week when he unveiled the province's projections of some 3,000 and 15,000 deaths by the end of the pandemic unless stricter measures are implemented.
The premier reiterated calls for increased testing in Ontario, after saying Wednesday that the province should be conducting 13,000 tests each day.
"If they have symptoms, they should be tested," Ford said Thursday, commenting on continued evidence that people showing signs of COVID-19 are being denied tests.
Ford also called on people who live outside the province to continue to avoid entering Ontario to go to cottages, calling it an "unwritten rule" not to cross provincial borders during the pandemic. He added that he will be speaking with the Prime Minister later in the day as well as with the premiers.
Calls for auto insurance breaks
Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips said Thursday he wants insurance companies to give drivers breaks on their premiums that reflect the "devastating impact" of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phillips said he met last week with the CEOs of the major insurance companies and said people are driving less and therefore having fewer collisions.
Some companies have already announced discounts for customers, but there's been no industry-wide change mandated by the province.
The provincial NDP has called on the Ontario government to mandate a three-month, 50-per-cent discount on auto insurance.
Updated testing guidelines
Meanwhile Ontario's chief medical officer of health said in a new memo that all health-care workers and first responders should be tested for COVID-19 as soon as they develop any symptoms, even atypical ones.
Dr. David Williams also said that anyone newly admitted to a long-term care home should be tested, as well as residents — even asymptomatic ones — who have had contact with a confirmed case.
The expanded guidance stopped short of a call Premier Doug Ford issued Wednesday for every long-term care resident, front-line health-care worker and first responder to be tested.
Ford was expressing frustration over the number of daily COVID-19 tests performed in Ontario falling well short of its lab processing capacity.
Williams' memo says testing of asymptomatic patients, residents or staff is generally not recommended.
Asked about plans to conduct wider testing of the general public, Williams said at a news conference Thursday that he hadn't been given any recommendation to do so by the province's epidemiologists or modellers.
"There's no sector in Canada that does population-wide testing," he said. "We haven't been planning to do a population survey ... at this stage, but that doesn't mean we wouldn't consider something in the future."
Williams also responded to questions from journalists about accounts of people being denied testing, saying he couldn't force individual doctors or centres to perform tests.
The province's top doctor has also issued a new directive to long-term care homes requiring all staff and essential visitors to wear masks while they are in those facilities, whether there is an active outbreak or not.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario, which represents personal support workers, said the province should also amend a current provincial directive that ensures health-care workers in hospitals are using N95 masks to include staff in long-term care homes, as well.
Candace Rennick, the union's secretary-treasurer, said Williams's order is a good first step, but even that equipment is in short supply, and not as effective as N95 masks.
"The surgical masks are not stopping the spread of this virus," she said. "They're not meant to do that."
10 low-risk offenders released
The office of the solicitor general told CBC News Thursday that more than 2,300 inmates have been released from Ontario's jails since mid-March as the province looks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside correctional facilities.
Additionally, between April 2 and 8, 10 low-risk offenders nearing the end of their sentences were released from custody in the province's jails with temporary absence passes.
Some legal groups and activists have been calling for governments to release non-violent inmates to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails.
Sylvia Jones' office said that the released offenders include:
Five inmates from Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene.
Two inmates from Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay.
One inmate each from Kenora Jail, the Niagara Detention Centre and Monteith Correctional Complex in Iroquois Falls.
The ministry says it has also given temporary absence passes to intermittent offenders, who would normally spend weekends in custody.
'Dynamic' social distancing an option?
A new study suggests toggling physical distancing measures up and down could be a way of sustaining the long-term fight against COVID-19 without crushing the economy.
Scientists from the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph used mathematical modelling to predict the course of the disease in Ontario.
The research suggested so-called "dynamic" physical distancing could help keep the health-care system from becoming overwhelmed.
It would also allow: "periodic psychological and economic respite for populations," the researchers say.
Six Nations reports COVID-19 death
A First Nation in southwestern Ontario says one of its members has died of COVID-19. Six Nations of the Grand River's elected chief, Mark Hill, says the community is grieving the death.
The First Nation says there are eight coronavirus cases on the reserve. It had its first confirmed case two weeks ago.
Six Nations declared an emergency on March 13 and has set up checkpoints to restrict access to the territory.
Hill says the community must increase its efforts to slow the spread of the disease and to stay home.
"Given the increased risk of mortality within First Nations communities, we've been trying to prepare for this, but you never really can, can you?" Hill said in a statement.
"When this is all over, we will hold each other close. But right now, we need to show unimaginable strength and do everything in our power to ensure we do not lose anymore lives."