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Ontario implementing stricter public health measures as province sees record-high new cases

Premier Doug Ford holding a news conference beginning at 1 p.m. at Queen’s Park. Notably, Ford is joined by several senior members of the province’s COVID-19 command table, including Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Dirk Huyer, chief coroner for Ontario and co-ordinator of the provincial outbreak response and Mathew Anderson, president and CEO of Ontario Health.

Ontario is introducing a number of stricter public health measures, some provincewide and some more targeted to current hotspots like Toronto, Ottawa and Peel, as the province reported a record-high number of new COVID-19 cases on Friday.

The provincial government is also making significant changes to the process of getting a COVID-19 test, which as of October 6 will be done by appointment-only. Assessment centres will stop offering walk-in tests of October 4, in an effort to allow Ontario’s network of labs to work through a backlog of tests that ballooned to more than 90,500 today.

As part of today’s changes, Ontario is pausing the concept of social circles and advising that people limit close contact only to people living in their own household and maintain two metres physical distancing from everyone else. People who live alone may consider having close contact with another household.

“Just keep your circles tight,” Premier Doug Ford said at an afternoon news conference, during which multiple reports expressed confusion about the details of the province’s updated advice.

Ford and his top health officials declined to answer a straightforward question, for example, when asked if a reporter should visit their parent who lives in a different house this Thanksgiving.

Further, masks will now be required in all work places where physical distancing of two metres or more is not possible, as well as on all public transit and in shopping centres provincewide. 

Any additional reopenings of businesses in the province will be put on hold for at least 28 more days, Ford added.

CBC News previously reported on a proposal before Ford’s cabinet that would have designated Toronto, Ottawa and Peel as “red zones.” Ford confirmed he had been looking at that proposal but that he decided against doing so after speaking with Quebec Premier François Legault, who said the system, which is in place in his province, was too confusing for the public.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, however, repeatedly called the three areas “hot zones” during Friday’s news conference.

Test backlog grows to more than 90,500

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 732 additional cases of COVID-19 today.

Toronto saw the most new cases with 323, though Health Minister Christine Elliott noted that some cases confirmed in the spring were included in today’s number due to a data review by Toronto Public Health.

Ottawa recorded 141 more cases and Peel 111.

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

  • York Region: 38
  • Durham Region: 34
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 13
  • Halton Region: 11
  • Niagara Region: 11
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 10

About 58 per cent of the newly confirmed infections are in people under 40 years old, Elliott noted, including 30 in students.

The previous record of 700 new cases came just five days ago on September 28. 

The province’s official COVID-19 death toll took a considerable jump, increasing by 76 to 2,927. However 74 of those deaths were “reported for cases that occurred in the spring or summer and are now being recorded as part of a data review and data cleaning initiative,” the Ministry of Health said.

Ontario’s network of labs processed 40,093 test samples for the novel coronavirus yesterday, while the backlog of tests waiting to be completed grew to more than 90,500 — by far the most since the outbreak in late January.

One of the sources told CBC News that Ontario will shut down some COVID-19 assessment centres for one day to give laboratories some extra time to work through the backlog. Assessment centres will also move to an appointment-only system, said the source.  

The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued its slow but steady climb, increasing by seven up to 167. Thirty-eight of those people are being treated in intensive care units, and 21 are on ventilators.

The number of confirmed outbreaks in long-term care homes is now at 44.

Ontario’s network of labs processed more than 40,000 test samples for the novel coronavirus Thursday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

RNAO calls for tighter restrictions

The Registered Nurses Association (RNAO) called on the provincial government Friday to immediately impose stricter public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

“Urgent action is needed to prevent a full lockdown later on. This is something we have implored government officials to do, but their actions are timid and ineffective,” said RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun in a statement posted online.

Grinspun adding that “the numbers will get much higher unless immediate action is taken to stem the rising tide.”

The letter urges the closure of bars, indoor dining, places of worship and gyms across the province.

Still have questions about COVID-19? These CBC News stories will help.

Will Ontario be able to track down everyone who came in contact with those who have COVID-19?

Doctors are warning the surge in cases will strain the contact-tracing system

Is another lockdown coming in Ontario? What do we know about the Ford government’s fall plan?

CBC Queen’s Park reporter Mike Crawley obtained a draft copy of the plan

What’s happening in Ontario schools and child-care centres?

The province just changed its rules around runny noses, and you see what schools have COVID-19 outbreaks on this provincial site

What’s the most recent guidance on mask use?

Reporter Lauren Pelley took a look at what the experts are advising

Who is getting COVID-19?

CBC News crunched the data from across Canada to get the clearest picture possible

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