Coronavirus: Ontario mulls regional reopening approach due to increased testing data

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Friday that they are looking at the idea of a regional approach to reopenings, in conjunction with the expanded testing plan announced earlier that day.

TORONTO — Ontario is implementing an expanded COVID-19 testing strategy, including targeting specific sectors and using mobile teams, and the increased data that will follow is prompting the premier to consider a regional approach to reopening.

Premier Doug Ford had been asked on multiple occasions about the idea and said it wasn’t on the table, but now he is asking health officials to show him what a regional model would look like.

“The reality on the ground is different in every part of the province,” Ford said Friday.

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“With more testing, that testing becomes more and more clear and knowing that information will help us be more precise. It will help us be more targeted.”

Two-thirds of the province’s cases are in the Greater Toronto Area, while some public health units are reporting few, if any, active COVID-19 cases. Sudbury, for example, currently has none.

Ontario has at times struggled to meet its daily testing goals, and is now expanding the list of those who can get tested. The new testing strategy includes targeting specific workers and sometimes bringing mobile testing units to them.

A testing strategy released Friday shows the province is now testing staff and inmates in some correctional facilities, staff in hospitals that have experienced outbreaks, first responders in Toronto and their families, LCBO workers, all residents and staff in retirement homes and people in long-term care homes for a second time.

Next week, community testing will also start in places with a high number of COVID-19 cases, with a van or bus going to affected workplaces, or simply directing employees to go to assessment centres.

Ontario has intended to do 16,000 tests per day throughout May, and while it has met that goal less than half of the time, the numbers have increased in recent days, with 18,525 tests reported Friday.

Levels dropped sharply once a blitz of nearly all long-term care residents and staff was completed over the long weekend, but they have picked up again in recent days after Ontario relaxed criteria for members of the public to be tested.

Anyone concerned that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 can now get tested, whether or not they have symptoms.

Ford has spoken about testing asymptomatic front-line health-care workers, large workplaces such as food manufacturing facilities, groups such as truck or taxi drivers, and doing a second round of testing in long-term care.

He has said mass testing is the province’s best defence against the virus.

Ontario reported 344 new COVID-19 cases Friday, and 41 more deaths. That brings the provincial total to 27,210 cases, which is an increase of 1.3 per cent over the previous day. The total includes 2,230 deaths and 20,983 cases that have been resolved.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, has said new cases from a round of long-term care testing earlier this month are still coming in, so he’s not sure yet what percentage of the new cases are from the community.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 and in intensive care dropped, but the number of people on ventilators rose from 94 to 100.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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