18 residents of Woodbridge long-term-care transported to hospital due to COVID; Province’s regional health units report total of 29,227 confirmed and probable cases


The latest novel coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Sunday (this file will be updated throughout the day). Web links to longer stories if available.

1 p.m.: Eighteen residents of Woodbridge Vista Care Community were transported to hospital on Saturday night after testing positive for COVID-19, York Region said.

York Region spokesperson Stephanie Crowley confirmed that paramedics transferred the 18 patients from the long-term-care home near Steeles Avenue and Martin Grove Road to hospitals outside York Region.

Crowley did not specify the conditions of the patients.

To date, 80 residents and 20 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at Woodbridge Vista Care Community, according to provincial figures. Twelve have died.

12 p.m.: The Ontario government is asking for Ottawa’s help to expand broadband internet access for students as schools remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, in a letter penned to the federal government, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott requested “immediate, urgent support” to address gaps in broadband access in areas of rural and Northern Ontario.

“While most residents in Ontario have access to the internet, the speed, quality, and cost vary significantly across the province,” the ministers wrote.

“Existing internet connectivity gaps prevent many elementary and secondary students from accessing the same learning made available to all other Ontario students, affecting education equity.”

The letter states that, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, every Canadian should have an internet connection with access to broadband speeds of at least 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload and access to unlimited data.

The Ford government has committed to spend $315 million in the next five years to expand broadband access province-wide, and is asking the federal government to help speed up the effort of bringing almost 3,000 schools across the province, including 99 in Northern Ontario, online.

11 a.m. Ontario’s regional health units are reporting a total of 29,227 confirmed and probable cases, including 2,316 deaths.

The total of 314 new confirmed and probable cases reported since the same time Saturday morning was down from the previous day, as the daily totals continue to fall from a spike that saw the health unit totals above 400 per day most of last week.

The Sunday-morning tally includes the 123 new cases in Toronto and 114 more in Peel Region reported Saturday afternoon; together, the two health units accounted for nearly three-quarters of the province’s new infections.

According to a provincial database of COVID-19 cases, nearly 80 per cent of the 3,783 Ontarians with an active case of COVID-19 reside in the GTA, with nearly 85 per cent of those in living in Toronto or Peel Region.

In many parts of the province, only a handful of patients still have an active illness. Eighteen of Ontario’s 34 regional health units — including all six in Northern Ontario — have fewer than 10 active cases.

Meanwhile, the 18 fatal cases reported in the province since Saturday morning were below recent days. The rate of deaths is down considerably since peaking at more than 90 deaths in a day earlier this month, about two weeks after the daily case totals hit a first peak in mid-April.

Because many health units publish tallies to their websites before reporting to Public Health Ontario, the Star’s count is more current than the data the province puts out each morning.

Earlier Sunday, the province reported Ontario’s COVID-19 testing labs completed 17,014 tests Saturday, marking the third consecutive day above the target total of 16,000 daily.

The province also reported 781 patients are now hospitalized with COVID-19, including 118 in intensive care, of whom 90 are on a ventilator — numbers that have fallen sharply this month. The province also says nearly 22,000 patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus have now recovered from the disease — about three-quarters of the total infected.

The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of total deaths — 2,247 — may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, meaning they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

11 a.m. When Kathryn Butler Malette learned her younger sister was diagnosed with COVID-19, she was confronted with a waking nightmare: that her beloved sibling might die alone.

While Ontario’s government has said facilities can allow end-of-life visits, Butler Malette said she was told the Ottawa-area long-term-care home where her sister lives didn’t want to chance it, given the magnitude of the outbreak they were experiencing.

Experts and insiders say that palliative care, which focuses on comfort, has become less of a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily due to visitor restrictions and even bans born out of staffing shortages and a need to limit exposure to the virus. But some say it’s time to loosen those restrictions and find a balance between keeping everyone safe and allowing dying patients to say goodbye to their loved ones.

Butler Malette would have done anything to be able to be with her sister through her sickness, worn any personal protective equipment, taken any precautions, she said — especially if her sister were to have reached end of life.

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It didn’t get that far — after a few dips, Butler Malette’s sister has recovered, though the two have yet to be reunited — but the predicament is playing out in long-term care homes and hospices across the country, said Sharon Baxter, executive director of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.

While many provinces are loosening their policies on visiting dying family members, Baxter said, the facilities caring for patients are not always following suit. She said it’s time for that to change.

“We’re wanting to call attention to the issue that we could do much better with compassionate protocols. And now that things are starting to loosen up … now’s the time for us to look at, can we provide PPE for family members?” she said. “Can we make sure that family members can get in and say their goodbyes?”

She said that during this crisis, palliative care has been put on the back burner.

9 a.m.: Pope Francis cheerfully greeted people in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, as he resumed his practice of speaking to the faithful there for the first time since a coronavirus lockdown began in Italy and at the Vatican in early March.

Instead of the tens of thousands of people who might have turned out on a similarly sunny day like in pre-pandemic times, perhaps a few hundred came to the square on Sunday, standing well apart from others or in small family groups.

Until June 3, people aren’t allowed to travel between regions in Italy or arrive from abroad for tourism, so the people in the square came from Rome or places in the region.

Noting this was the first time he could greet people in the square for weeks, Francis said that “one doesn’t emerge from a crisis the same. You either come out better or you come out worse.” He said he’d be back to greet them next Sunday in the same place at noon, smiling and pointing down to the vast square far below his studio window.

8 a.m.: India reported more than 8,000 new cases of the coronavirus in a single day, another record high that topped the deadliest week in the country.

Confirmed infections have risen to 182,143, with 5,164 fatalities, including 193 in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said Sunday.

Overall, more than 60 per cent of the virus fatalities have been reported from only two states — Maharashtra, the financial hub, and Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The new cases are largely concentrated in six Indian states, including the capital New Delhi.

There are concerns the virus may be spreading through India’s villages as millions of jobless migrant workers return home from cities during the lockdown. Experts warn that the pandemic is yet to peak in India.

7:45 a.m.: Russia reported 9,268 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, the first time in a week that the daily tally exceeded 9,000, but the lowest death toll in several days: 138.

Overall, Russia has recorded 405,843 cases and 4,693 deaths from COVID-19. The relatively low mortality rate compared with other countries has prompted skepticism domestically and abroad.

7 a.m.:Ontarians who rely on prescription medication will hopefully see an onerous COVID-19 precaution lifted by the end of June.

A 30-day limit on prescriptions was brought in by the Ontario government in the early days of the pandemic in an effort to prevent drug shortages. Spokespeople for Ontario’s seniors community and the province’s pharmacy industry say they expect the limitation will be lifted within the month, returning to the usual 90-day maximum by July 1.

“It’s been a difficult policy,” said Justin Bates, the chief executive officer of the Ontario Pharmacists Association. “We stand by the policy, we think it was the right thing to do, but I think everybody’s hopeful that we can get back to 90 days and to a normal cycle of quantity.”

Saturday, 7 p.m. Ontario’s regional health units are reporting 320 new COVID-19 infections, according to the Star’s latest count.

As of 5 p.m. Saturday, the health units had reported a total of 29,212 confirmed and probable cases, including 2,316 deaths. The daily counts have fallen from a spike that saw totals above 400 cases per day most of last week.

Saturday’s tally included 123 new cases in Toronto and 114 more in Peel Region; together, the two health units accounted for nearly three-quarters of the province’s new infections.

According to a provincial database of COVID-19 cases, nearly 80 per cent of the 3,933 Ontarians with an active case of COVID-19 reside in the GTA, with nearly 85 per cent of those in Toronto or Peel Region.