Ontario preparing for ‘gradual’ economic reopening as modelling shows pandemic peak likely reached, Premier Ford says

On Monday, April 20, Premier Ford announced Ontario will begin talks to gradually and safely reopening the economy, based on new modelling data indicating that the province has likely reached its peak in the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the situation in long-term care homes continues to worsen.

Premier Ford said that his committee has begun the discussion of a framework for the reopening of the province in a “gradual, measured and safe” way with strict measures in place. 

Premier Ford cautioned that physical distancing and self-isolation measures must still remain in place for weeks if not longer. 

“Based on the modelling shown today there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” Premier Ford said at Queen’s Park. “ But we cannot let our guard down, we still have far to go. But we’re in a better position today.” 

Provincial health officials said on Monday that the physical-distancing measures implemented weeks ago are working, helping to reduce the community spread of COVID-19. 

The new projections suggest Ontario will likely see 20,000 or less total cases of the new coronavirus by the end of April, much lower than the 80,000 projected by previous models. 

The numbers in long-term care homes, however, continue to rise.

According to the latest model, at least 367 of the total 591 deaths in the province have been in long-term care, accounted for more than 60% of the total deaths in Ontario. 

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New research has found that nursing-home residents over the age of 69 were 13 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than people in the same age group living elsewhere.

The research was done by David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and four of his colleagues who studied confirmed and suspected coronavirus outbreaks at 272 out of 626 long-term care homes in the province as of April 7. The result was published on medrxiv.org.  

The research also found that people 80 years and older were eight times more likely to die of COVID-19 if they lived in long-term care.  They also found the COVID-19 deaths in nursing-home residents most often followed confirmed infections in staff. The more workers tested positive, the likelier a death was recorded soon after at the home.

Ontario recently passed legislation ordering long-term-care staff to work in only one place, but it does not apply to temporary or contract workers. The province also says it is sending in-hospital teams of medical professionals to help these long-term-care homes, including 70 volunteers from Toronto’s University Health Network, and says guidelines for personal protective equipment are also being followed. On the weekend, 21 homes received “much-needed supports,” the Ministry of Long-Term Care said.

While Ontario continues to see hundreds of new cases each day, officials and experts say that, overall, the outbreak appears to be largely under control in communities.

But officials and experts say it is still too early to relax physical distancing, as doing so would lead to a spike in new cases.

“Everyone needs to continue to stay home as much as possible, maintain physical distancing, to ensure that the province continues to stop the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve,” said Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health.

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