TORONTO — Ontario's top doctor has issued new COVID-19 testing guidelines aimed at front-line health workers and long-term care residents — though they stop short of a call by the premier to test all of those people.
Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer of health, said in a memo that new residents admitted to long-term care should be tested, as should roommates of any symptomatic residents, and any asymptomatic residents, staff or visitors that have come in contact with a confirmed case.
Symptomatic residents are still included in testing guidelines, but Williams is also now specifying that atypical symptoms should be considered, including unexplained fatigue, delirium, falls, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills and headaches.
All health-care workers, caregivers, care providers and first responders should be tested "as soon as is feasible" if they develop any symptoms, including atypical ones, Williams wrote.
Premier Doug Ford called Wednesday for every long-term care resident, front-line health-care worker and first responder to be tested, expressing frustration over the number of daily COVID-19 tests performed in Ontario falling well short of its lab processing capacity.
Ford said Thursday that he remains committed to achieving that.
"Our goal at the end of the day is test every single front-line health-care worker, all workers, being nurses, doctors, (personal support workers), cleaners," he said.
"Anyone that's involved in health-care, there has to be a priority. Our priority is to make sure we target the long-term care residents and the workers there as well."
Williams said that these new guidelines focus on vulnerable populations and front-line health workers, but "additional guidance is expected to be provided in the coming days to further increase the testing of Ontarians."
He has also issued a new directive to long-term care homes requiring all staff and essential visitors to wear surgical masks while they are in those facilities, whether there is an active outbreak or not.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario, which represents personal support workers, said the province should also amend a current provincial directive that ensures health care workers in hospitals are using N95 masks to include staff in long-term care homes, as well.
Candace Rennick, the union's secretary-treasurer, said Williams' order is a good first step, but even that equipment is in short supply, and not as effective as N95 masks.
"The surgical masks are not stopping the spread of this virus," she said. "They're not meant to do that."
Ontario reported 26 new COVID-19 deaths Thursday, for a total of 200. There have been 483 new confirmed cases since Wednesday, with a provincial total of 5,759 — an increase of 9.2 per cent.
William Osler Health System announced Thursday that a long-time environmental services worker at the Brampton Civic Hospital has died from COVID-19.
More than 2,300 cases have been resolved, which is 40 per cent of Ontario's total COVID-19 confirmed cases.
There are now 632 people in hospital confirmed to have COVID-19, with 264 of them in intensive care and 214 of those people on ventilators.
Nearly 4,100 tests were completed in the 24 hours up to 4 p.m. Wednesday, not long after Ford railed against the relatively low number of tests being performed in Ontario.
There is lab capability to do 13,000 tests per day, but the testing backlog grew for a third day in a row, by about 100 to just over 1,200.
Ontario is now seeing at least 69 outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care homes across the province, with at least 88 deaths.
There are major outbreaks at several homes around Ontario. Pinecrest Nursing Home — a 65-bed facility in Bobcaygeon — has seen 29 of its residents die and the same number of staff have tested positive.
At least 16 residents at Seven Oaks long-term care home in Toronto have died due to COVID-19, with another 45 confirmed and 56 probable cases among the 249 residents. Thirteen staff have tested positive.
Ten residents at Almonte Country Haven outside Ottawa have died due to COVID-19 and 20 others have tested positive.
Ford also announced Thursday that a jobs and recovery committee of cabinet will focus on getting businesses up and running and people back to work after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 9, 2020.
Allison Jones and Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press