March 18, 2021, Premier Doug Ford toured a mass vaccination clinic at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton. The site will open to the public on Monday.
Premier Ford also provided an update on Ontario’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, and responded to questions from media.
The government also announced investments to extend temporary wage enhancements for personal support workers (PSWs) and to fund 80 new long-term care projects today. An additional investment was announced to fund an initiative to detect COVID-19 in wastewater, through a partnership with academic and research institutions.
This morning, the government announced that Ottawa Public Health would be moved to the Red-Control level of the province’s COVID-19 Response Framework. This decision, which takes effect tomorrow, March 19, at 12:01 a.m., was made at the request of the local medical officer of health due to concerning public health trends.
Update on Ontario’s Vaccination Plan
Today, following a tour of the mass vaccination clinic at Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre, Premier Ford provided an update on the province’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Premier Ford noted that the public response to the vaccine rollout has been “enormous” so far, and that close to 400,000 vaccine appointments had been booked. As of last night, nearly 50 per cent of Ontario residents aged 80 and older have received their first dose of the vaccine. In addition, Premier Ford said the province is “well on the way” to being able to administer 150,000 doses of the vaccine per day through mass immunization clinics, pharmacies, mobile units, and primary care offices.
Questions from Media
Outdoor Dining and Fitness Classes
Premier Ford was asked about comments made by Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, that discussions were taking place with the province about loosening Grey zone restrictions on outdoor activities, such as patio dining and outdoor fitness classes. In response, the Premier said that the government would move forward with this recommendation if the Chief Medical Officer of Health, local mayors, and local medical officers of health agreed on the approach.
Provincial Vaccination Plan
When asked about the province’s vaccination plan, Premier Ford responded that he was confident Ontario would be equipped to handle the anticipated level of demand as vaccine supply increases. He added that, if Ontario had an endless supply of vaccines, that the province would be capable of administering several million doses per month.
Pharmacy Vaccination Pilot
In response to questions about expanding the pharmacy vaccination pilot, Premier Ford said that the pilot would be expanded first to 700, then to 1,000 pharmacies (up from 327) over the next couple weeks. He added that pharmacies will be significant contributors to the province’s capacity to administer vaccines, in parallel with mass vaccination clinics.
Extension of Temporary Wage Enhancements for PSWs
The government announced a $239 million investment today in order to extend the temporary wage enhancements for PSWs and direct support workers in the publicly funded home and community care, long-term care, public hospitals, and social services sectors.
Temporary wage enhancements will continue until June 30, and are intended to help stabilize, attract, and retain members of this workforce during COVID-19.
The temporary wage increase first came into effect on October 1, 2020, and applies to over 158,000 workers who deliver publicly funded personal support services.
Investment to Modernize Long-Term Care
This afternoon, the government also announced $933 million for 80 new long-term care projects, which will lead to the creation of 7,510 new spaces, and upgrade 4,197 spaces in long-term care.
A list of projects receiving funding as a result of today’s announcement is available here. Criteria for selecting projects includes:
- Upgrading older homes in response to lessons learned around improved infection prevention and control measures, particularly the elimination of three- and four-bed rooms;
- Adding spaces to areas where there is high need;
- Addressing the growing needs of diverse groups, including Francophone and Indigenous communities; and
- Promoting campuses of care to better address the specialized care needs of residents.
COVID-19 Wastewater Surveillance Network
Further, the government announced an additional $12 million today to support a new initiative to detect COVID-19 in wastewater. As a result of this investment, the province is partnering with 13 academic and research institutions to create a surveillance network to test wastewater samples taken from communities across Ontario.
The surveillance network is intended to enhance the ability of local public health units to identify, monitor, and manage potential COVID-19 outbreaks. Wastewater sampling for the early detection of COVID-19 is already taking place in several communities across the province, and today’s announcement will build on this ongoing work.
According to Minister of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks, Jeff Yurek, this method provides a “close to real-time way to track the spread of the virus – even before people begin showing symptoms.”