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NDP calls on Ford gov't to expand asymptomatic COVID-19 testing to all schools in hard-hit neighbourhoods – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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NDP MPPs are calling on the Ford government to conduct widespread COVID-19 testing at all schools in the province’s hardest hit neighbourhoods after asymptomatic testing at an East York elementary school unearthed 19 previously undetected infections.

Members of the official opposition are urging the provincial government to immediately deploy resources to facilitate voluntary testing centres inside schools in Ontario neighbourhoods with high COVID-19 positivity rates.

“Doug Ford is trying to save a buck by underserving the hardest hit areas,” NDP Deputy Leader and Brampton Centre MPP Sara Singh said in a news release issued Monday.

“He has been refusing to send extra help to hot spots, because he wants to do things on the cheap. That’s resulting in longer, deeper lockdowns and more devastating illness. We need help to end this nightmare, and stop the virus from hurting our loved ones.”

On Sunday, it was revealed that asymptomatic testing at one Thorncliffe Park elementary school resulted in 18 students and one staff member testing positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

In a letter sent to parents yesterday, the principal of Thorncliffe Park Public School said Toronto Public Health detected the cases after 433 tests were processed on Thursday and Friday.

Thorncliffe Park is one of the neighbourhoods in the GTA that has been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday afternoon, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that the data indicate that community transmission in Thorncliffe Park is substantially worse than the transmission happening within the school.

“I think it should be noted that the principal within this school has communicated that the positivity rate compared from the community to the school is quite vast. In the community, it is roughly 16 per cent positivity whereas in the school it is roughly four per cent,” he said.

“There is a four time increase of transmission happening in the community notwithstanding that those schools are right at the heart of those neighbourhoods.”

He said the disparity indicates that there is “something right happening” when it comes to the “layers of prevention” occurring in the public school system.

“The fact that hundreds of students and staff have gotten tested in this school in conjunction with the local public health unit, I think underscores that the plan in place is working hard to mitigate any further spread,” Lecce said.

“This morning, including the data points from Thorncliffe, 99.9 per cent of Ontario students are COVID-free and that continues to underscore the importance of following public health advice and it really I think demonstrates the importance of keeping schools open, which is our plan for 2021.”

Roughly 14 per cent of the province’s 4,828 publicly funded schools have at least one reported case of COVID-19 and at least four schools are currently closed as a result of outbreaks of the disease.

Province changed testing guidelines last week

Just last week, the province adjusted its COVID-19 testing guidance for school staff and students in Toronto, York Region, Peel Region and Ottawa to allow voluntary asymptomatic testing.

The province also offered school boards in the regions an additional $35 million to strengthen public health measures.

The testing pilot, which is in place for four weeks, was implemented to better track how the virus is spreading in and around schools.

Since late September, Ontario’s assessment centres would not test asymptomatic people unless they were linked to a known case.

The NDP called the funding and four-week testing program a “half-measure.”

“Some students in some regions may be able to get tests. According to the government, the location and method for testing will vary between regions and cities, regions will have to develop their own plan,” the NDP said in a news release last week.

“Ford’s still trying to cheap out on testing students, teachers and staff, and that’s not good enough.”

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said the cases at Thorncliffe Park Public School are “concerning but not surprising.”

“Those numbers are obviously concerning. We know that that is one of the neighborhoods in the city of Toronto that has high rates of COVID-19 transmission,” she said at a news conference on Monday afternoon. 

“That is one of the schools that was chosen for this testing initiative and when we have a lot of COVID-19 in the community, by its nature it spills into the schools.”

She said the province is continuing to work with Toronto Public Health to identify measures that will help prevent further spread of the virus in the city’s schools.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy called the discovery at Thorncliffe Park Public School an “important” one.

“We know that children tend to be minimally, if not symptomatic at all, but they appear to be quite good at spreading this,” he told CP24 on Monday.

“So we need to be quite aware of whether or not there is any asymptomatic signal within our younger children to prevent that from spreading to others in a multi-generational household or others who are certainly going to be at a higher risk if they acquire COVID-19 and become a lot sicker.”

Sharkawy said he hopes the province continues to expand asymptomatic testing in schools.

“There are a lot of asymptomatic people out there who are infected with this virus and unfortunately until we ramp up our testing capacity and ideally target areas that appear to be harder hit, we won’t really know the extent of the disease that’s out there,” he said.

“I think that this was actually an important finding. I don’t think it is one that should create too much alarm amongst people sending their children to school but I hope it is a pilot program that will catch on, especially in other areas that are hard hit.”

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Coronavirus: Toronto ICU patients being flown to other hospitals as facilities overloaded – Global News

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  1. Coronavirus: Toronto ICU patients being flown to other hospitals as facilities overloaded  Global News
  2. Active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations climb as Ottawa reports 136 new cases Saturday  CTV Edmonton
  3. A run with friends? A distanced drink? Let’s dig into Ontario’s opaque gathering rules  CBC.ca
  4. Ontario reports 3056 new COVID-19 infections, 51 more deaths  CP24 Toronto’s Breaking News
  5. Today’s letters: On travelling – and staying home – during COVID lockdown  Ottawa Citizen
  6. View Full coverage on Google News



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Key COVID-19 numbers in the Ottawa area today – CBC.ca

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  • Ottawa is reporting 136 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday.
  • Western Quebec has confirmed 43 new infections today.

Today’s Ottawa update

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) recorded 136 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday. OPH also declared 111 more cases resolved and reported no new deaths.

The infection rate in Ottawa has risen to record levels since around Christmas, prompting OPH to declare the city is once again in a COVID-19 crisis.

The current lockdown in eastern Ontario went into effect Dec. 26, and is now scheduled to last until Feb. 11.

A provincial stay-at-home order is also in effect. 

Numbers to watch

88.9: The number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 Ottawa residents, down from Friday.

1.01: The average number of people infected by a single COVID-19 case, or R(t), has been in gradual decline this month but remains unchanged since Friday. OPH aims to keep the number below one.

4.1%: Ottawa’s average test positivity percentage, down from 4.5 per cent.

Across the region

Health authorities in western Quebec are reporting 43 new cases of COVID-19 but no more deaths.

Quebec’s lockdown lasts until Feb. 8. It includes an 8 p.m. curfew that went into effect last weekend.

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Ontario reports 3056 new COVID-19 infections, 51 more deaths – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Ontario is reporting more than 3,000 new COVID-19 cases and a slight decrease in hospitalizations on Saturday.

The province logged 3,056 new infections and 51 additional deaths.

Twenty-five of the latest fatalities were among long-term care home residents, according to the Ministry of Health’s latest epidemiological summary.

To date, 3,162 long-term care residents have died from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, representing 59 per cent of all virus-related deaths in the province. A total of 5,340 people have died from the virus in Ontario.

Provincial health officials said 3,212 more people have recovered from the virus on Saturday, bringing the number of active cases to 28,618.

Ontario recorded 2,998 new cases on Friday, 3,326 on Thursday and 2,961 on Wednesday.

A record 3,945 new cases were recorded on Jan. 10.

The seven-day rolling average now stands at 3,218, compared to 3,341 a week ago. Last week’s average does not include the approximately 450 additional cases that were reported by Toronto Public Health on Jan. 8 due to a data backlog.

In the past 24 hours, the province processed more than 73,800 tests, down from the record 76,472 tests conducted a day ago.

The testing positivity rate now stands at 4.9 per cent, up from 4.6 per cent a day ago, according to the Ministry of Health. The positivity rate was 5.3 per cent a week ago.

Most of the cases continue to be throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

“Locally, there are 903 new cases in Toronto, 639 in Peel, 283 in York Region, 162 in Durham and 152 in Ottawa,” Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted.

Toronto, Peel Region and York Region saw a decrease in new cases compared to a day ago, while Durham and Ottawa saw an increase.

Halton Region logged 61 new infections, down 20 from Friday, and Hamilton reported 53 new cases, a notable decrease from 138 cases logged a day ago.

Only three of Ontario’s 34 public health units reported zero new cases on Saturday, and 16 logged 10 or less new infections.

Patients hospitalized with the virus decreased slightly on Saturday as the province’s health care system remains overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

According to the government, 1,632 were hospitalized with the virus in the past 24 hours, down from 1,647 a day ago. On Tuesday, 1,701 people were in hospitals across the province with the virus but hospitalizations have been decreasing slightly ever since.

Of the latest hospitalizations, 397 are in intensive care units, up from 387 on Friday, and 281 are breathing with the help of a ventilator.

There have been more than 234,300 cases of the novel coronavirus in the province since the virus emerged almost a year ago. More than 200,400 people have recovered from COVID-19.

More than 19,000 completed vaccinations

As of 8 p.m. on Saturday, the government has administered more than 189,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines across the province.

In the past 24 hours, more than 14,400 doses were administered to Ontarians.

Since Dec. 14, more than 19,300 vaccinations have been completed across the province, as two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are required for full immunization.

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