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Ford indicates Canadian military may return to Ontario long-term care homes

Wednesday, January 13, 2021 @ 5:01 PM | By John Schofield

With COVID-19 deaths in Ontario’s long-term care homes surpassing 3,000, Premier Doug Ford has provided his strongest signal yet that Canadian Forces personnel will be returning to those facilities.

“I just got off the phone with the prime minister before I came out here, an hour or so ago, and he’s offered that up,” Ford said in response to a reporter’s question at a Jan. 13 news conference. “We’ll take all the help we can get. I never refuse help. If it’s the military, if it’s the Red Cross, if it’s anyone.”

Ford said he will consult with the Ministries of Health and Long-Term Care to confirm if military support is needed, but he provided no additional detail.

“In my opinion, in some homes it’s required,” he said. “But I just want to make sure, once they come, where they’re going and where they’re needed most.”

Reminded by reporters again of his previous promise to “build an iron ring” around long-term care homes, both Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott said that vaccination of all long-term care residents and workers will provide the most protection.

The government is aiming to administer at least the first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccines to all long-term care residents and workers in the COVID-19 hot zones of Toronto, Peel Region, York Region, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex by Jan. 21 and throughout the province by Feb. 15, said retired Canadian Forces General Rick Hillier, chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force.

On Jan. 13, Ontario reported 2,961 new cases and an alarming 74 virus-related deaths. Thirty-six of those fatalities were residents of long-term care homes. A total of 3,063 long-term care home residents have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Total COVID-19 deaths in the province now stand at 5,127. Forty per cent of Ontario’s long-term care homes are dealing with an active outbreak.

Epidemiological modelling released at a Jan. 12 news conference projected that, without a significant reduction in person-to-person contacts, deaths from COVID-19 during the second wave could exceed fatalities during the first wave — even before the vaccination program has time to take effect. The government also reported Jan. 12 that 14 cases of the more infectious U.K. variant of COVID-19 have been found in Ontario.

Ford and Elliott said COVID-19 is inadvertently being brought into long-term care homes by workers in the facilities, so testing is being increased.

“We need to make sure that every caregiver that comes in, every staff worker that goes in, is tested so they don’t bring it in inadvertently with them,” Elliott said at the news conference.

“We do have security people there to make sure that people are tested, that there isn’t anyone that’s allowed to come in that doesn’t get that testing,” she added. “The rapid testing is coming in, as well, and we’re going to continue to do that until the residents have all been vaccinated.”

On Jan. 13, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) issued a news release calling on the government to implement five measures to protect long-term care homes, including ramping up the vaccination effort, cut red tape preventing physicians from moving rapidly into long-term care homes with outbreaks and appointing a chief medical officer for long-term care in each Ontario health region to ensure quality care.

“The situation in our long-term care homes is dire and heartbreaking,” said OMA president Dr. Samantha Hill. “We appreciate the steps the government has taken and continues to take. But we all know more needs to be done and done quickly.”

Meanwhile, members of the NDP Official Opposition called on the government to come to the aid of two hard-hit long-term care homes, Maple Manor in Tillsonburg, where 13 residents have died of COVID-19, and St. George Care Community in Toronto, where 17 have died.

“People are suffering and dying, and families are losing their cherished parents and grandparents,” Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a news release. “Front-line workers report a complete lack of infection protections, and staffing levels so low that seniors are left to wither and suffer, whether they have COVID-19 or not. It’s a humanitarian crisis, and we cannot turn away and just let it continue like this.”

The NDP is calling for at least 10,000 personal support workers to be hired urgently for all long-term care homes, the addition of infection prevention and control professionals for every facility, and paid sick days for all Ontario workers, including personal support workers.

In the government’s Jan. 13 news conference, Ford pushed back against criticism that the terms of provincial stay-at-home order, announced Jan. 12 and taking effect Jan. 14 at 12:01 a.m., are unclear. 

“Folks, there is no confusion here. It’s very simple. Stay home,” he said. “Stay home, that’s it. If you’re questioning should I go out, you got the answer — stay home. Restez à la maison. It’s that simple.”

Legal terms of the stay-at-home order were expected to be published online by the government sometime on Jan. 13.

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