Ontario reported 133 additional cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, marking a week-long stretch of new daily case counts in the triple digits.
A majority of the cases were concentrated in Toronto and Peel, with 43 and 34, respectively. Ottawa and York Region were the only other two health units that saw double digits, with 12 and 15 new infections.
In a series of tweets, Health Minister Christine Elliott said 29 of the province’s 34 public health units saw five or fewer new cases yesterday, while 21 of those 29 confirmed no new infections at all.
The province has now seen a total of 42,554 confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began in late January.
Metrolinx announces 1st staff COVID-19 case in 2 months
On Wednesday, the provincial transit agency, Metrolinx, reported its first staff infection of COVID-19 after nearly two months without a positive test result, according to a post by spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins on the agency’s website.
The employee, who worked out of the East Gwillimbury Garage, has not been at work since Aug. 29 and is recovering at home, the post said.
“All indications are our employee contracted the virus from outside the work location,” said Aikins. ” Although the risk to customers is extremely low, we are informing the public out of an abundance of caution.”
All Metrolinx employees and customers are required to wear face coverings in stations, on platforms, on buses and trains, the agency says.
The individual is Metrolinx’s 11th employee out of a staff of 4,300 to test postiive for COVID-19.
The news comes the same day that Premier Doug Ford held a news conference at a Metrolinx maintenance facility to tout added measures to keep transit riders and customers safe.
Ford said Metrolinx has implemented more than 40 safety measures, including seat dividers on GO trains and buses, making face coverings mandatory, providing hand sanitizers on all buses and all stations and increasing service beginning Sept. 5 as more people return to school and work.
NDP calls for ombudsman to review back-to-school plan
Meanwhile, the province’s Official Opposition said in a formal request that Ontario’s ombudsman must review the government’s back-to-school plan to ensure it’s living up to vital safety standards,
The New Democrats’ education critic, Marit Stiles, wrote in the letter released Wednesday that she wants the ombudsman to determine if measures are in place to meet standards recommended by experts.
Stiles notes in the letter to Paul Dube that the ombudsman’s purview includes school boards, and argues an urgent investigation is required to address the “confusion or anxiety” felt by many.
Dube’s office could not immediately provide comment on the NDP’s request.
With just days to go before classes start, the Ford government has faced increasing pressure over its COVID-19 pandemic back-to-school plan.
School boards, teachers’ unions and some parents have called on the government to mandate smaller class sizes to ensure physical distancing is possible in the classroom and provide funding to make it happen.
‘We have this one. We’re ready,’ Ford says
The province’s strategy will see students in kindergarten through Grade 8 return to school without any reduction in class sizes, though students will spend the day in a single cohort to limit contact with other children.
Many high schoolers will also be in class full-time, though secondary students at 24 boards across the province will do half of their classes online in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Ford has defended his plan repeatedly in recent weeks, calling it the best in the country, and something that was created in consultation with experts.
Asked for his reaction to the NDP request on Wednesday, Ford instead praised the work of principals in the school system and attacked the province’s teachers’ unions.
“Why don’t they pitch in?” he said of the unions.
“Why don’t they be positive instead of painting a picture of apocalypse [like] the world’s coming to an end? Why don’t they jump in there like the great principals that I’ve talked to [have]?”
Ford also stressed that his government is ready for the return to school beginning next week.
“It’s all hands on deck,” he said. “We have this one. We’re ready.”
Earlier this week, Ontario’s four major teachers’ unions appealed to the province’s labour board about Ford’s back-to-school plan.
They alleged it violates provincial workplace laws and want a series of changes made to lower class sizes and address concerns about school ventilation.
The unions have also said the government has not consulted them on the development of their school reopening strategy.
Public servants to return to workplaces starting Tuesday
Ontario Public Service senior executives and political staff will start returning to their workplaces next Tuesday, according to a memo obtained by CBC News. The return of other government workers will be phased in from Sept 28 until December.
NEW: Ontario Public Service senior executives and political staff will start returning to their workplaces next Tuesday. The return of other government workers will be phased in from Sept 28 until December. <br>I’ve obtained this memo from the top <a href=”https://twitter.com/ONgov?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ONgov</a> civil servant. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/onpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#onpoli</a> <a href=”https://t.co/vfHDTf04yt”>pic.twitter.com/vfHDTf04yt</a>
Inmate tests positive for virus at Toronto East jail
The province also confirmed Wednesday that an inmate at Toronto East Detention Centre has tested positive for COVID-19.
The positive case was confirmed on Aug. 30, Brent Ross, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, said in an email to CBC News.
“The ministry is working with Toronto Public Health to mitigate any impacts to staff and inmates,” the email said in part. “In accordance with public health advice, any staff and inmate close contacts are self-isolating and/or being tested as appropriate.”
The ministry’s COVID-19 dataset shows that as of Aug. 31, there was also one active case of the virus each at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, at the Toronto South Detention Centre and at the South West Detention Centre.
In May, there were over 75 active cases of the virus at the Ontario Correctional Institute in Brampton.
In March, Ontario issued new rules for jail staff after a guard tested positive for COVID-19 at the Toronto South Detention Centre after complaints staff members were not directed to self-quarantine after travel.
1,236 active cases of COVID-19 provincewide
Public health officials also reported another 137 resolved cases in today’s update, a considerable jump over the figures typically seen over the last several days.
There are now about 1,236 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 provincewide.
The province’s official death toll stayed steady at 2,812. But a CBC News count based on data from public health units, a measure that avoids lag times in the provincial reporting system, puts the real toll at 2,850.
The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 dropped to 60 from 65. Of those, 13 were being treated in intensive care, while nine are on ventilators.
Ontario’s labs processed more than 24,000 test samples for the novel coronavirus since the last update, and another 18,273 were added to the queue to be completed.
Elliott noted that the province has now done more than three million tests.
All of the figures in this story can be found in the Ministry of Health’s daily update, which includes data up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit.