TORONTO — Ontario put out a wartime-like plea Tuesday to press anyone in the province with health-care experience into service, as the first Ontario-made personal protective equipment rolled off the lines following a similar call to action to businesses.
Premier Doug Ford announced the opening of an online portal through which people with medical training can be matched with jobs in order to increase front-line capacity in hospitals, clinics and assessment centres.
“Join the fight today, because we need every person in Ontario in this fight,” Ford said.
“We need an army of 14.5 million people…Whether it’s staying home, working in our hospitals or long-term care homes, or putting food and medicine on our shelves, we’re all part of this and with your help we will win this battle and our province and our economy will come back stronger than ever before.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott said people who should look at the health-care portal include retired people, students, and people who were trained in other jurisdictions — though she suggested foreign credentials may not be immediately and fully recognized.
“What we’re trying to do is match the employer’s needs with the skill set of the person that’s coming forward,” she said.
“They may or may not, depending on their skill sets, their experience and so on, be able to practice medicine, but they certainly will have a place in our health-care system.”
The jobs will come with pay, Elliott confirmed.
Ford also announced Tuesday that the first made-in-Ontario face masks are ready, one day after he warned that the province would run out of personal protective equipment in a week.
Ford was at the Woodbridge manufacturing facility in Vaughan, Ont., where the first 1,000 Level 3 masks have been produced.
He lauded the work of the company, together with the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, to retool their factories and get the required approvals to manufacture masks for front-line workers.
The company hopes to eventually produce one million masks per week and have the product certified as N95 masks to be used in all health-care settings. Woodbridge will be making the masks at its facilities in Vaughan and Kitchener.
Ford has blamed supply shortages on a combination of delays in global shipments, domestic manufacturing lag time and U.S. restrictions.
Late Monday, manufacturer 3M reached a deal with the White House to continue sending masks to Canada, shortly after U.S. officials held up a shipment of 500,000 masks.
Ford called that a positive development, and along with the Woodbridge masks now being produced he said Ontario’s personal protective equipment situation is better, but the province still needs supplies through the federal government and clarification on the 3M agreement.
“The numbers are so fluid,” Ford said.
“We could get a shipment of 100,000 masks in one day and it moves the needle. We have people donating every single day, but if you’re asking me is today better than yesterday, the answer’s yes.”
Ontario reported 379 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, including 21 more deaths.
That brings the totals in the province to 4,726 confirmed cases, including 153 deaths and 1,802 cases that have been resolved.
The new cases represent an 8.7 per cent increase over Monday, marking the second day in a row that the growth rate has been under 10 per cent.
There are at least 51 long-term care homes in Ontario with one or more cases of COVID-19, with a total of 850 reported cases, and there have been at least 69 deaths in those institutions.
About 45 per cent of all of the deaths in Ontario have been long-term care residents, according to government data.
There have been 27 deaths alone at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon — more than a third of the facility’s residents. Twenty-nine staff members have also been infected. Long-term care and retirement homes across the province have seen multiple residents die in COVID-19 outbreaks, including in Toronto, Oshawa, Sarnia, Hagersville, Hamilton and Woodslee.
There are now 614 people in Ontario hospitalized with COVID-19, with 233 of them in intensive care and 187 of those people on ventilators.
More than 500 health-care workers in the province have tested positive, representing about 11 per cent of all confirmed cases in Ontario.
There have also been 15 COVID-19 outbreaks reported in hospital settings.
Ontario appears to have completed about 2,500 tests in the past 24 hours, despite pledges that increased lab capacity would allow for at least 5,000 tests per day by this point.
A spokeswoman for Elliott said Ontario’s capacity is actually at 13,000 tests per day now, but only about 3,500 are being submitted through assessment centres.
“This surplus in capacity means that we can now look at testing more people, particularly priority populations, including health-care staff, residents and staff in long-term care and retirement homes and Indigenous communities,” Hayley Chazan said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2020.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version twice referred to an incorrect day of the week.