TORONTO — Ontario’s government is asking its hardest-hit long-term care homes to come up with a plan to stabilize the spread of COVID-19 within their walls as the virus’s growth continues to slow in the province at large.

Officials have said the province is fighting the battle against the novel coronavirus on two fronts: one in long-term care homes, where the virus is quick to spread and more likely to kill, and the other in the general public, where infections have slowed and the economy is starting to reopen.

“The current pandemic has created significant challenges in managing outbreaks across long-term care homes and in ensuring continued quality of care for residents,” reads a letter from Deputy Minister of Long-Term Care Richard Steele, sent to the hard-hit homes on Friday.

“While we have all been focused on managing emerging crisis situations, as the course of pandemic evolves, it is essential that there is a clear focus on returning all homes to a state of staffing stability,” the letter reads.

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The letter obtained by The Canadian Press requests that the specific facilities outline how they’ll keep staffing levels up and improve their leadership capacity.

“The plan should include clear deliverables, milestones and an approach to measuring and reporting on progress,” the letter says.

The plans are due by noon on Monday.

Steele requested that the facilities outline how they’ll ensure on-site physicians and medical coverage will be provided, as well as how they will improve leadership through new positions.

Meanwhile, the province saw the lowest daily growth rate of the virus since March, with just 294 new cases on Sunday — a 1.5 per cent increase from Saturday’s total. There were also 35 more deaths reported on Sunday.

The province’s Ministry of Health has now reported a total of 20,238 confirmed cases of the virus and a death toll of 1,634.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care has reported more than 1,200 deaths related to the virus in care homes, although their numbers come from a separate database from the provincial totals.

Certain facilities have taken the brunt of the impact, such as Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., a 65-bed facility that had 29 residents die. Several other homes have seen more than 40 residents die, including the Camilla Care Community in Mississauga, which has recorded 48 resident deaths.

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association, which represents most of the province’s long-term care homes, said facilities have also been facing the potential loss of half of their staff through the pandemic.

“(The association) has been in constant, open and productive conversations with the provincial government to make sure we have all the tools we need to address this pressing issue as the situation continuously evolves,” said CEO Donna Duncan.

“Our first priority must be to stabilize homes with outbreaks, and keep COVID-19 out of the rest.”

Duncan said regulatory flexibility from emergency orders have been one way the government has eased staffing concerns.

Meanwhile, the province is continuing plans to ease the lockdown, with retail stores allowed to provide curb-side pickups for customers on Monday.

The province will also begin to reopen provincial parks on Monday for walkers, hikers, cyclists and bird-watchers.

Certain parts of provincial parks will remain closed, including camping areas, playgrounds and beaches.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2020.

—with files by Colin Perkel.

Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press

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