Park people, the Mother's Day bump, and bubbling is delayed: Your COVID-19 roundup

Park people, the Mother’s Day bump, and bubbling is delayed: Your COVID-19 roundup

Premier asks park people to get tested, medical officer doesn't

Premier Doug Ford once again urged everyone in Ontario to get tested for COVID-19, whether or not they display any symptoms.

"Why don’t you do us all a favour and go get tested now?" he said of the massive crowd at Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods park on Saturday, adding that he was "disappointed to say the least" at the packed park.

The province's testing guidelines say no Ontarian who "is concerned they have been exposed to COVID-19 will be declined a test at an Assessment Centre."

Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said later on Monday that for Ontarians with "any symptoms" or those who may have come in contact with a case or work in an essential service, "you will be received and you won’t be turned away."

Meanwhile, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Barbara Yaffe said she wasn't recommending anyone who had been to the park to get tested, but instead to stay away from vulnerable people including the elderly and to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days. She recommended the park people only get tested if they develop symptoms, or if they remain asymptomatic but are still very concerned about COVID-19.

Ford also clarified that when he had previously said families should visit testing centres, he didn't mean kids — "but I really encourage the adults to go there."

The premier again declined to consider a regional approach to reopening the province, saying that if rural areas are opened first, people from Toronto and other major cities would simply flock there. “It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Ford added that the Bellwoods scene on Saturday was not representative of Toronto as a whole, saying that "99.9 per cent" of residents have been "absolutely incredible."

He thanked Ontarians for following his advice to get tested, noting that there was a lineup for tests at Women's College Hospital in Toronto over the weekend.

“The people have been absolutely phenomenal," he said.

The province's new plan for testing, focused on COVID-19 "hot spots," is coming in the next few days, the premier added. The government will be targeting major workplaces and communities where there are “large numbers of people or large employers,” he said, promising a “robust public awareness campaign."

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca criticized Ford's current plan, calling for random testing.

"The premier's plan boils down to this: everyone can get tested now. The hope is that Ontarians will take it upon themselves to go into testing clinics so the premier can hit his numbers," he said. "This isn't the approach I would be taking. Ontario should be testing workers in high risk sectors. And we should be implementing random testing so that we can gauge how widespread COVID-19 is."

Officials disagree on why cases are rising

The number of new cases continue to rise in Ontario, after it looked like things were going the other way. Elliott attributed the rise in part to people seeing family on Mother's Day when they shouldn't have.

"The increase in the number of cases that we're seeing now in the last few days really relate to the week before, with the Mother's Day events and so on — people seeing families when there should not have been more than five people together," she said.

The numbers toward the end of this week will reflect what the effects of starting to reopen the economy have been, Elliott said. If they continue to increase, the province will stick to this phase instead of moving forward on more reopening, and will have discussions about whether to take further action, she said.

Williams said on Friday that he didn't think Mother's Day was a factor in the rising cases, but Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said on the same day that the city's analysis showed Mother's Day likely played a role.

On Monday however, Williams appeared to have changed course.

Referring to the "blip," as he called it: "It goes back to people during the weekend around the Mother's Day weekend, and even though the weather was a bit inclement, it may have a sense that people thought they could be a bit casual in the social and physical distancing, and I think then there might have been some increased trend in spread there," he said.

Bubbling on the backburner

The province had been discussing how to allow Ontarians to form "pools" of people they could socialize with, as other areas have done. But after seeing the Trinity Bellwoods crowd and the number of rising cases, Williams is "reluctant to move forward with that right away," Elliott said.

"There is a concern about people creating groups that are too large," she said. "So it is something that will be coming forward, but it has been pushed back a little bit because of what we've seen over the last few days in terms of people gathering together and with the numbers of new cases moving forward."

Williams concurred, saying all ideas around "social bubbling" have been paused amid rising case numbers.

Support for government takeover of long-term care homes

Two-thirds of Canadians believe long-term care homes should be nationalized, a new Angus Reid poll finds, including 47 per cent of past federal Conservative voters. Quebec had the highest proportion of people who wanted nationalization with 77 per cent, followed by Ontario and British Columbia, each with 66 per cent.

Long-term care homes in Ontario have been especially hard hit, with over 1,500 deaths to date. A disproportionate number of those deaths have come in privately-owned facilities.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called for the province to take over "many more" long-term care homes than the two that will be temporarily run by hospitals.

“For weeks, we have all heard horror stories about long-term care homes leaving residents with COVID-19 in the same room as healthy residents, denying proper personal protective equipment to everyone in the facility, and leaving families in the dark about their loved ones with poor communication practices,” Horwath said in a statement. “Taking over two homes suggests that the government believes only two long-term care homes are failing to protect precious lives, and that’s far from true.”

Landlords: 'I'm begging you'

Ford once more pleaded with commercial landlords to sign up for the federal-provincial aid program instead of kicking out their tenants who can't pay rent, promising "consequences" if they don't.

The program rolls out tomorrow, but there have been many reports of landlords telling their tenants that they don't plan to apply for the program, which would see governments kick in half the commercial rent, tenants pay 25 per cent, and landlords take a loss of the other 25 per cent.

“They need to start signing up for this, because they aren't going to like the consequences if they don’t sign up for it,” he said. "I can assure you: I'm protecting the tenants, simple."

Ford did not get more specific about the "consequences," despite being asked whether he would declare a moratorium on commercial evictions, as the government did early on in the pandemic with residential evictions.

“I’m asking, I’m begging you, landlords, please sign up. Because trust me, if they don't sign up then there’ll be consequences, simple as that,” he said.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said Ford is "passing the buck" to small businesses and relying on "vague threats" to landlords.

“Instead of wagging his finger at landlords, the Premier could actually save small businesses without costing the province a penny," he said in a statement.

Can we keep (slightly) liberalized booze?

Opening up the sale of alcohol was once a hallmark of the Ford government's ambitions — so intertwined with its identity that Horwath dubbed them "beer-mongerers."

But facing a potentially costly legal battle with the Beer Store and some more pressing priorities, booze quietly dropped off the Tories' radar in the months before COVID-19. During the pandemic, however, the government lowered the minimum price for alcohol sold by licensed restaurants and bars — which it had allowed to sell drinks with takeout food orders shortly after it ordered them to close for sitdown meals.

Ford said he'd speak with Finance Minister Rod Phillips about keeping those measures in place after the pandemic. “There’s going to be a lot of things” that could change in the brave new post-COVID world, he added, saying he had spoken with a few CEOs about how workplaces could change.

Jack Hauen


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