Ontario expands testing guidelines as COVID-19 deaths rise

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As the number of deaths continue to climb in Ontario due to the COVID 19 outbreak, the province is continuing with efforts to stem the number of fatalities.

A $243 million fund was previously announced by the provincial government to create additional surge capacity in long-term care homes as well as to help with more staffing.

There have been 104 outbreaks reported in long-term care homes, with cases in 933 residents and 530 staff members.

The province has acknowledged that some outbreaks in those facilities were the result of staff who work in two or three homes inadvertently bringing in the virus.

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario's minister of long-term care, said Wednesday that the province will also provide personal protective equipment to any long-term care homes in need within 24 hours of their request, and will work toward "better isolation measures".

"This is a temporary measure to allow for a reduction of the spread of COVID-19".

"In order to ensure a steady supply of staff available to work on an emergency basis in long-term care homes, this order would not apply to agency workers or other critical contract staff", she said.

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Ministry of Long-Term Care spokesperson Gloria Yip confirmed to CBC News Thursday morning that temporary workers are able to take shifts in more than one facility, despite the order.

Essential workers, cross-border workers, and people living with health-care workers, care providers and first responders are also now to be tested as soon as possible if they develop symptoms.

"We can not waste any more time and we can not leave huge loopholes open". "Today we're throwing everything we've got at our long-term care homes". And while there are now 795 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Ontario - 26 more than on Tuesday - the number of people in intensive care and on ventilators dropped slightly.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott says the new guidelines will help Ontario take full advantage of the testing capacity it has built, and will help the province more effectively identify and contain cases among vulnerable populations.

Some of the hardest-hit facilities include Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, where 29 residents have died; Eatonville Care Centre in Toronto, where 27 residents have died; Seven Oaks in Toronto, where 22 residents have died; and Almonte Country Haven outside Ottawa, where 18 residents have died.

Public health officials announced expanded testing guidelines Thursday including children and the elderly who may show symptoms that have not typically been linked to COVID-19.

There were just over 6,000 tests completed in the previous day despite a promise from the government to do 8,000 tests a day by Wednesday.

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