Ontario’s seventh COVID-19 victim is a man in his 90s from an Oshawa nursing home where a cluster of four cases was detected by Durham public health officials several days ago.
The death was reported Tuesday as the province gave long-term care home operators new emergency powers to cancel staff vacations, transfer employees and volunteers as needed to deal with outbreaks of the novel coronavirus. Hospitals were given similar authority on the weekend.
Health ministry officials also issued a directive aimed at stopping families and friends of nursing home residents from taking them out for day trips to reduce the risk they will bring COVID-19 back in.
“These are our most fragile individuals,” said Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, who has already restricted non-essential visits to long-term care homes.
After his condition deteriorated at the Hillsdale Terraces nursing home, the unidentified resident in his 90s was transferred to Lakeridge Health’s Oshawa hospital where he died Monday, said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate medical officer of health.
The province saw an increase of 85 confirmed cases Monday, bringing the total to 588 in the last two months. That number includes the seven dead and eight cases that have been cleared after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
Since Monday, 11 more COVID-19 cases in Ontario were admitted to hospitals — where seven patients are in serious condition on ventilators — and five more health-care workers contracted the virus, bringing that tally to 31.
“We are seeing this ramp up across the country,” Williams told reporters in a briefing by teleconference.
He acknowledged a “need to do more and more testing” but cited a lack of capacity at labs and of chemical reagents used in the tests. A shortage of swabs for taking nasal and throat samples has been solved.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government is now looking to private labs and university labs to increase the number of tests to better track down people with COVID-19 and isolate their contacts.
Nationwide, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported 2,176 cases and a total of 25 deaths Tuesday. Close to 120,000 tests have been administered and about 10,000 people a day are being tested.
Ontario is now doing about 3,000 tests daily and hopes to reach 5,000 by the end of the week, Williams said. The backlog of tests has topped 10,000.
Local public health units are scrambling to track the cause of infection in each case, but Yaffe said the source of 40 per cent of Ontario’s cases remain a mystery.
Sixty-five per cent of the solved cases are travel-related — mainly from the United States and Europe — 20 per cent from close contact with confirmed cases and most of the rest have no travel history or contacts.
“We can comfortably say they were transmitted in the community,” said Yaffe, who has been reluctant to single out community spread as a cause.
In contrast, federal government statistics from across the country list community spread as the largest single source of infection at 48 per cent, followed by travel at 42 per cent and seven per cent having close contacts with people carrying the COVID-19 infection. The remaining four per cent is yet to be determined.
On Tuesday, 220 passengers repatriated from the cruise ship Grand Princess who were symptom free after a 14-day quarantine were allowed to leave CFB Trenton. Other passengers who tested positive will remain.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, stressed that about two-thirds of cases involve people under 60.
While “age matters” with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers impacting the severity of the illness, the younger set is not immune.
“They’re just not getting as sick but can you get really, seriously sick? Absolutely,” Tam said.
Get the latest in your inbox
Never miss the latest news from the Star, including up-to-date coronavirus coverage, with our free email newsletters
“We need to spread this message to a younger generation so they don’t think it’s just an illness that impacts the older age groups or the people with chronic underlying illness,” she said.
The federal statistics show five per cent of cases have been in people under age 19, rising to 11 per cent for people in their 20s, 15 per cent the 30s, 16 per cent 40s, 18 per cent 50s, 16 per cent in the 60s, nine per cent in the 70s and five per cent in the 80s.
“All of us can potentially get this disease. You may not be able to tell whether you’re the one that’s going to get particularly sick. I think that message … hasn’t been out there enough and some young people may not be taking this very seriously,” Tam said.