Ford differentiates between Ontarians holding private gatherings and establishments defying COVID-19 rules

Premier Doug Ford drew a distinction between Ontarians flouting public health measures through private gatherings and establishments that openly defy the province’s COVID-19 rules Tuesday.

The remarks came in response to questions about at Toronto barbeque restaurant owner publicly vowing to keep his doors open amid the province’s lockdown for the city.

“They have to follow the rules. There can’t be rules for one group and not another,” he said at a news conference Tuesday, less forcefully than in other instances where the premier has come out swinging against people throwing large parties or weddings, for example.

“When it comes to private parties, that’s a different ball of wax,” Ford said. “I’m not going to get up here and start pounding the small business owner when the guy’s holding on by his finger nails. I differentiate between someone at home being reckless and having 100 people over and partying and renting a public storage place … that’s reckless.

“I don’t condone that he opened up but I feel terrible. My heart breaks for these guys … these business-owners, believe me. “But please, in saying all that, you’ve got to follow the protocols and guidelines.”

The province also announced Tuesday that it has begun deploying rapid testing in long-term care homes, rural and remote areas — something the premier called a “gamechanger.”

The announcement comes as a data error resulted in an artificially low daily total of 1,009 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.

It also comes just one day before the province’s auditor general is set to issue a three-part report on the province’s pandemic emergency preparedness and its response to COVID-19, including lab testing, case management and contact tracing. 

A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said that yesterday’s figure of 1,589 cases (which appeared to be a record high) inadvertently included eight-and-a-half extra hours worth of data from Nov. 22, meaning the total count was inflated. Today’s number adjusts for the mistake.

The new cases include 497 in Toronto, 175 in Peel Region and 118 in York Region. The seven-day average now sits at 1,395.

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Waterloo Region: 40
  • Windsor: 31
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 25
  • Ottawa: 19
  • Niagara Region: 19
  • Durham Region: 16
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 16
  • Hamilton: 10

[Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.]

Today’s additional cases include 270 that are school-related: 223 students and 47 staff. The Ministry of Education said in a statement that the figure is not a one-day increase. Rather it reflects cases identified in schools from 2 p.m. last Friday to 2 p.m. yesterday, and also some others that were not reported Friday because of professional learning days in some boards, including the Toronto public and Catholic boards.

There are currently 703 publicly-funded schools in Ontario, or about 14.6 per cent, with at least one reported instance of COVID-19. Four schools are closed due to the illness, including one in Windsor with 39 cases, the largest school-related outbreak in the province.

There are now 12,917 confirmed, active cases of the illness provincewide, a slight drop from yesterday as 1,082 cases were marked resolved today. 

The further infections in today’s update come as Ontario’s network of labs processed just 27,053 test samples for the novel coronavirus, and added 29,316 to the queue to be completed. There is currently capacity in the system for up to 50,000 tests daily. Meanwhile, the province reported a test positivity rate of 5.8 per cent.

The official COVID-19 death toll grew by 14, up to 3,519. So far this month, 374 people with COVID-19 have died in Ontario. 

Hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 also jumped, up 27 to 534. Of those, 159 are being treated in intensive care and 91 with ventilators. Public health officials have identified 150 patients in ICUs as the threshold for when unrelated surgeries and procedures are likely to be postponed because of burdens on the hospital system.

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