COVID-19: Toronto cancels Pride Parade and Canada Day events; Ontario offers free tuition to PSW students

A roundup of coronavirus news in Ontario for February 24

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Toronto reports 200 more variant cases in two days

2:45 pm Another 200 COVID-19 cases have screened positive for varaints of concern in the past two days, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said today.

Speaking to reporters at city hall, she said a total of 710 cases have screened positive and are expected to be confirmed as fast-spreading variants. On Monday, Toronto reported 511 screened positive variant cases.

To date, 72 cases have been confirmed as the UK variant and one has been confirmed as the Brazil variant.

After screening positive, the cases undergo lengthy genome sequencing to identify the specific strain.

“The only trend I’m prepared to cite at this point is that the screened positive total marches upward daily and that should be a matter of concern to all of us,” she said. “The variants are something to be worried about; easily transmitted and in all likelihood capable of causing more serious illness.”

De Villa said Toronto’s reproductive number is now 1.1, which means the city’s epidemic is growing. The number indicates the number of cases infected by a single case.

“This is not where we want to be,” she said, adding the number needs to be brought below 0.7.

Toronto cancels in-person Pride, Canada Day events

2:35 pm The city of Toronto has extended the cancellation all city-run and city-permitted events and festivals through July 1, including Pride and all Canada Day events, due to the pandemic.

As with last year, the move means most in-person events will have to shift to digital formats, Mayor John Tory said today. The following events are among those impacted:

  •  Toronto Marathon, half Marathon, 5k, 10k and relay (will be a virtual event)
  • Sporting Life 10k (will be a virtual event)
  • Canadian Music Week (will be a virtual event)
  • Doors Open Toronto (cancelled)
  • Juno Awards (will be a virtual event)
  • Ride for Heart (will be a virtual event)
  • NXNE Music Festival (will be a virtual event)
  • Luminato (virtual option to be determined)
  • The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer (will be a virtual event)
  • TD Toronto Jazz Festival (virtual option to be determined)
  • Indigenous Arts Festival (will be a virtual event)
  • Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival (will be a virtual event)
  • Trans March, Dyke March & Pride Parade (will be a virtual event)
  • Scarborough Canada Day Parade & Celebration (cancelled)
  • Canada Day Celebrations at Mel Lastman Square (cancelled)

“Major festivals and events require long lead times for planning and they rely on city sites and supports and permissions,” Tory said. “That is why it is necessary to make these decisions at this time.”

The announcement does not include permits issued by the parks division for activities in parks or other sites that are allowed under Ontario’s reopening framework, Tory added.

Professional sporting events are not affected by this decision.

Tory said it was too soon to predict whether events scheduled after July 1, including the CNE and the Royal Winter Fair, would take place in person.

Ontario offering PSW students free tuition this spring

1:35 pm A tuition-free training program for Personal Support Workers (PSW) will launch at 24 publicly funded Ontario colleges in April.

The Ford government announced today that it intends to train up to 8,200 workers as part of a recruitment push to get more staff in long-term care homes, a sector plagued by staffing issues.

The fully funded program will launch in April and registration opens in March.

“The Accelerated PSW Training Program is a tuition-free opportunity for 6,000 new students and is expected to take only six months to complete, rather than the typical eight months,” the province said in a statement.

“After three months of coursework and experiential learning in a clinical setting, students will complete the final three months in paid onsite training in a long-term care home or in a home and community care environment.”

Additionally, the province announce tuition assistance for current PSW students who are close to finishing a program at a publicly funded college.

Nearly 2,200 students will be eligible to receive a $2,000 tuition grant, as well as a stipend to cover clinical placement costs, the province said.

Last fall, the province gave a temporary pay increase of $3 per hour (and $2 per hour for PSWs in hospitals) in a bid to recruit more workers.

Today, a reporter asked Premier Doug Ford if that hourly raise would become permanent.

“We need to keep that three dollars an hour. Simple,” Ford said, adding PSWs are “underpaid, overworked and understaffed.”

Royal Winter Fair to proceed with in-person event

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair will take place in-person this year from November 5-14 at Exhibition Place.

In a statement, the Royal’s board of directors said the annual fall event will “heed all regulations from the Ministry of Health to create a safe and secure environment.”

The fair, which features equestrian events, food competitions and agriculture booths, shifted online last year. Major festivals and events have either been cancelled or launched digital versions.

Yesterday, organizers of the Toronto Biennial of Art announced the event would move to spring 2022 due to the amount of in-person preparation work required in advance.

City says 13 more shelter residents test positive for variants

11:30 pm Another 13 shelter and encampment residents have tested positive for fast-spreading COVID-19 variants, the city said in a news release on Tuesday evening.

A day earlier, the city said 29 COVID-19 cases in a Salvation Army-run shelter have screened positive for variants of concern.

Testing to identify the variants is underway, and the city says it is implementing further measures to prevent spread in the shelter system, including:

  • Enhanced PPE protocols – updated directive on eye protection for shelter staff and three-layer masks for clients
  • Limiting movement between shelters
  • Exploring implementation of rapid testing pilots
  • Guidance for improvements to indoor air quality
  • Continued vaccination roll-out planning

The city’s shelter system has hit capacity during the pandemic and several sites have experienced outbreaks. Many people are opting to live outside in encampments as the city works to relocate people into temporary housing, including shelter hotels.

Hillier outlines vaccination timeline by age group

11 am The province will launch online and phone vaccination booking systems on March 15, the head of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination task force said today.

Retired General Rick Hillier said the next priority group for vaccinations is people aged 80 and over, who will start receiving first doses in the third week of March.

He also laid out a proposed timeline for when other age groups will start receiving shots, in descending order according to age:

April 15 – 75 and older

May 1 – 70 and older

June 1 – 65 and older

Early summer – 60 and older

Hillier said only people who are 80 and up or acting on behalf of someone in that age block should make bookings for vaccinations on March 15.

People will receive shots at a combination of mass vaccination sites, at pharmacies and a “mini-mass vaccination” clinic staffed by primary care providers, he added.

To date, Ontario has administered 602,848 COVID-19 vaccines to date.

Ontario reports 1,054 new cases of COVID-19

11 am Ontario reported 1,054 new cases of COVID-19 and nine more deaths on February 24.

Today’s count is an increase over the 975 cases reported yesterday.

There were 1,058 cases on Monday, 1,087 on Sunday, 1,228 cases on Saturday and 1,150 on Friday. The seven-day rolling average increased for a fourth straight day to 1,084.

Labs completed more than 54,800 tests in the past day, a more than double increase over the previous day. The positivity rate dropped to 2.4 per cent.

Of today’s deaths, two were long-term care home residents. The provincial death toll is now 6,983.

Hospitalizations dropped to 675 patients. There are now 287 people in intensive care, including 187 on ventilators.

The GTA continues to report the highest case counts. Toronto saw an increase of 363 new infections, Peel Region reported 186 new cases and York Region logged 94.

Five more cases of the fast-spreading UK variant have been confirmed in the past day, bringing the total UK variant cases to 395.

To date, there have been 296,173 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ontario. Of those, 279,230 are resolved.

New COVID-19 cases in Ontario on February 24

The following regions reported five or more new COVID-19 cases:

Toronto = 363

Peel Region = 186

York Region = 94

Simcoe Muskoka = 53

Windsor-Essex = 50

Thunder Bay = 45

Region of Waterloo = 44

Ottawa = 40

City of Hamilton = 38

Durham Region = 35

Halton Region = 26

Niagara Region = 13

Middlesex-London = 10

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph = 9

Sudbury & Districts = 8

Brant County = 7

Eastern Ontario = 6

Peterborough = 5

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