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Community spread of COVID-19 remains stubbornly high, Ontario’s top doctor says

Posted: May 9, 2020

(May 8, 2020)

By: Rob Ferguson, Toronto Star

The person-to-person spread of COVID-19 in the community is stubbornly persistent and hard to pinpoint, says Ontario’s chief medical officer.

“It is still perplexing to me we are not making major headway going down,” Dr. David Williams told a news conference Friday as the daily number of cases from community transmission remained stuck in the 200 range and total deaths from the outbreak exceeded 1,600.

But with public-health units across the province struggling to trace the cases of about 2,000 more Ontarians testing positive every week, nailing the sources of infection is a challenge.

There is a backlog of 6,727 cases awaiting investigation — fully 34 per cent of the province’s official tally since late January.

That’s where the nitty-gritty details will be found, perhaps in a cluster of cases that emanate from a party or a store, Williams said.

“We want to get down to that kind of intense case contact management to look at those areas,” said Williams. “We need to get to that kind of granularity.”

He said 55 per cent of all new cases appear to be community transmission of some sort, with the rest mostly in nursing homes.

He repeated a plea for people to keep two metres apart, wash their hands frequently and wear a mask or other face covering in close quarters where physical distancing is difficult — particularly with garden centres and hardware stores opening this weekend and other retailers with street entrances authorized to allow curbside pickups starting Monday.

“Be disciplined … or we’ll be in this plateau for quite a while,” warned Williams, who has set his threshold for recommending a further easing of restrictions on store openings and other measures at community spread numbers “well below” 200 cases daily.

A Star compilation of data from regional health units at 5 p.m. Friday showed another 417 new confirmed or probable cases were recorded in the previous 24 hours, pushing the number of infections from COVID-19 to 20,948 since the outbreak began in late January.

There were 58 more deaths, pushing the total to 1,648. That is eight times higher than at this time last month.

At least 1,150 of the deaths have been in nursing homes where the novel coronavirus spread rapidly, according to Ministry of Long-Term Care figures released Friday.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath renewed her calls for an independent public inquiry of the situation in long-term care, including a look at the role of for-profit homes which the Ontario Health Coalition found to have a higher death rate than not-for-profit or municipally owned long-term care facilities.

There are outbreaks in 175 of the province’s more than 600 nursing homes, where 2,782 residents and 1,707 workers are sick with COVID-19, resulting in staff shortages.

Premier Doug Ford has acknowledged the nursing home system, which was under pressure before the pandemic, is “broken” and needs an overhaul but has evaded questions on whether he will call an inquiry.

The Ministry of Health reported there were 1,043 patients in hospital with COVID-19, a number that has jumped from 800 in the last couple of weeks as more nursing home residents have been sent for treatment.

There were 223 patients in intensive care, including 166 on ventilators to breathe.

Almost 13,000 Ontarians with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have recovered.

After missing the daily test processing target of 16,000 for most of the week, labs across the province provided results on 16,295 samples on Thursday, the Ministry of Health said.

Ontario’s lab testing capacity has been expanded by about 1,200 in the last week and can now process 20,697 samples daily, Williams said.

At least 4,471 Canadians have died from the highly contagious novel coronavirus, with 65,399 who have tested positive. Thousands more with mild or moderate symptoms were never checked.

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