TORONTO — Ontarians can resume visiting loved ones in long-term care homes next week, with restrictions in place, including that they test negative for COVID-19.
Long-term care homes have been hit hard by outbreaks, with 1,772 residents and seven staff members dying, according to data from the ministry.
All "non-essential" visitors have been barred from the facilities for months during the pandemic, and Premier Doug Ford acknowledged Thursday it has taken a toll.
"From the outset of this pandemic we were all asked to make sacrifices and this period has been hard on all of us, but it's been especially difficult, it's been especially unbearable for families with loved ones in our long-term care system," he said.
"I know the tremendous toll this has taken on people, not being able to see your loved ones."
Starting on June 18, residents in long-term care homes that do not have COVID-19 outbreaks will be allowed at least one outdoor visit of one person per week.
Retirement homes can allow indoor and outdoor visits, with the number of visitors allowed being left up to the discretion of each home.
Visitors to both types of facilities must also have tested negative for COVID-19 in the previous two weeks.
There are 65 long-term care homes in the province with active COVID-19 outbreaks, dramatically lower than a peak of 190 last month, though several homes have had new outbreaks declared after one has been resolved.
That includes the home where Ford's mother-in-law, who had been ill with COVID-19, resides and the premier said that's why the provinces and the homes need to be "super, super careful" when implementing the new policies.
Ontario reported 203 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday — the lowest growth rate in more than three months, which also coincided with a record number of tests completed.
Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott both had COVID-19 test results come back negative Thursday, after getting tested the previous day out of what Ford's office called an "abundance of caution."
They got tested after learning that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had come into contact with someone who was infected. Ford and Elliott held a joint news conference the day before with Lecce to announce a child-care reopening plan. Lecce's test result also came back negative.
Ontario completed 24,341 tests in the previous day, the highest daily total to date.
With the 203 new cases, the province has now had a total of 31,544. That's an increase of 0.6 per cent over the previous day — the lowest growth rate in new cases since early March.
The total includes 12 new deaths for a total of 2,487, and 25,885 resolved cases — 505 more than the previous day.
Elliott noted in a tweet that the number of resolved cases is growing faster than the number of new cases.
"In fact, since Tuesday there are 709 fewer active cases of the virus in Ontario," she wrote. "The vast majority of new cases continue to come from the Greater Toronto Area."
The regions allowed to move to Stage 2 of Ontario's economic reopening plan Friday are still seeing few if any new cases, Elliott wrote.
The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 continued to steadily decline, from 580 the previous day to 538 Thursday — the lowest number since early April.
The number of people in intensive care and on ventilators with COVID-19 both increased slightly.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2020.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press