TORONTO — A personal support worker at a Toronto long-term care home has died of COVID-19, her union said Friday, as Ontario reported 55 new deaths and 564 new cases, most of them in long-term care.

Christine Mandegarian was an SEIU Healthcare member for 31 years and a caring and compassionate worker, said union president Sharleen Stewart.

“The tragic death of our union sister is a reminder of the very real dangers that front-line health-care workers face in the selfless delivery of care for Ontario families,” Stewart said in a statement.

“We have heard from her colleagues who described her as a gentle, caring and dedicated personal support worker. She will be missed and remembered.”

Mandegarian worked at Sienna Altamont Care Community in east Toronto. Sienna Senior Living said in a statement that she will be missed by all of her colleagues and the residents of the home.

Premier Doug Ford gave his condolences.

“My prayers and thoughts go out to the family,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to hear of these tragedies and we’re doing everything we possibly can, as we’ve said, to put an iron ring around these homes.”

There are COVID-19 outbreaks reported at 106 long-term care homes in Ontario, with at least 1,229 residents and 621 staff members infected, and at least 216 resident deaths.

The province’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, said she estimates about 60 per cent of the new cases are in long-term care residents — as testing in those facilities has been expanded — while the proportion of community cases continues to come down.

Ontario has issued an emergency order — to take effect next week — preventing long-term care staff from working at multiple homes. The province has acknowledged that some outbreaks in those facilities were the result of staff who work in two or three homes unwittingly transmitting the virus.

Health-care unions have long been calling for such a measure, saying staff often work at multiple facilities because they’re unable to get full-time positions at one home.

Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton has said the order is an interim solution, and Ontario will work with the federal government to address wages for those workers.

Stewart’s union asked Ford to put long-term care homes with some of the most deadly COVID-19 outbreaks in trusteeship, taking over administrative and operational control as some other provinces have done.

Fullerton said Ontario’s ministry does not operate homes, but will assist when other companies come in to provide resources and support for struggling facilities.

A Bobcaygeon long-term care home that had been the site of Ontario’s worst outbreak reported Friday that it seems to have turned a corner. Twenty-nine residents have died of COVID-19 at Pinecrest Nursing Home, but there have been no new deaths in a week.

“Many of our residents who had previously been ill or tested positive for COVID are now doing much better,” the home said in a statement.

“Today, following protocols from Public Health, we will take some residents for walks”

Friday’s new cases represented the largest single-day increase the province has seen since the pandemic began, though the growth rate is still holding steady at around six per cent.

Ontario has now seen 9,525 cases — with nearly half of them now resolved — and 478 deaths.

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital grew from 807 to 829, but the numbers of people in intensive care and on ventilators remained steady.

Those figures are well below what previously released modelling predicted, and Ford said new forecasts will be released Monday. The modelling is “generally looking better,” Yaffe said, while cautioning that the province is not out of the woods yet.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Friday that free emergency child care will be available for more workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the previously announced spaces for health-care workers, first responders and correctional officers, Lecce said another 11,300 spots could be needed under the expansion.

Workers who will be eligible now include staff in developmental services, victim services, violence against women services, anti-human trafficking services, children’s aid societies, probation and parole officers, staff in homeless shelters, power workers, RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency officers and Canada Post employees.

Lecce did not give any indication if school closures will be extended beyond May 4, but said Ontario has partnered with Rogers Communications and Apple to send more than 21,000 iPads with free wireless data to families in need to help with at-home learning.

Ontario also announced Friday that ambulance services will now be able to hire college students who haven’t yet graduated. The move is meant to ensure adequate staffing of paramedics and emergency medical attendants, but the province says the students will provide services appropriate to their level of competence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2020.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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