March 17, 2021, Ontario announced measures to make it easier for businesses to administer rapid COVID-19 tests in the workplace. Based on the success of the initial deployment of rapid antigen testing, the province is also expanding this program to additional sectors, including first responders, emergency medical services, trucking and transportation, wastewater management, and post-secondary institutions.
This afternoon, Minister of Labour, Training, and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton, provided an update on COVID-19 workplace safety inspections in Ontario. Throughout early March, provincial offences officers have conducted follow-up workplace safety visits, primarily to small businesses, to ensure compliance with COVID-19 requirements. During these visits, officers found that approximately 73 per cent of businesses were in compliance with public health measures, an increase of 20 per cent from the initial round of visits.
Earlier today, Ontario announced $15 million to support the province’s sport and recreation sector with operations during COVID-19. Funding will be distributed to provincial sport organizations, SPORT4ONTARIO, Quest for Gold Canada, and the Ontario Hockey League’s post-secondary education scholarships.
Also this morning, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, issued orders under the Connecting Care Act to transfer the Trillium Gift of Life Network and non-patient care functions from the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) to Ontario Health. The transfers are part of the government’s efforts to build an integrated and connected health care system, and will take effect on April 1st. Following the transfer, LHINs will be renamed “Home and Community Care Support Services,” to reflect a singular mandate to deliver patient care.
Yesterday, Ontario established the Staffing Supply Accelerator Group, to support the government’s goal of increasing long-term care staffing supply by expanding and accelerating education and training for personal support workers (PSWs), registered practical nurses (RPNs), and registered nurses (RNs).
COVID-19 Rapid Testing in Workplaces
Today, the government issued guidance to simplify the process of administering rapid COVID-19 tests in workplaces. The new guidance enables employees to self-swab for a rapid antigen point-of-care test on a voluntary basis, and under the supervision of a trained individual. By allowing staff to consider the option of taking their own swabs, the administrative costs of using antigen tests will be reduced for businesses, making this option particularly viable for small- and medium-sized businesses.
Based on the success of the initial deployment, the rapid antigen testing program is also being expanded to the following sectors:
- First responders
- Emergency medical services
- Trucking and transportation
- Wastewater management; and
- Post-secondary institutions.
The Provincial Antigen Screening Program was initially launched as a pilot in November 2020. The Program uses rapid antigen point-of-care tests to quickly identify COVID-19 cases in essential workplaces. The process does not require shipment of samples to a lab for processing. Employees who test positive through this process are required to take a lab-based PCR test at an assessment centre to confirm their results.
Ontario has also removed regulatory barriers governing the use of COVID-19 point-of-care tests, to better enable organizations in rural and remote communities to offer onsite testing.
The government is working with essential industries to identify priority sites for COVID-19 rapid testing, and is proactively reaching out to invite certain businesses to participate in the program. Sites have been identified by evaluating the relative degrees of risk, vulnerability, and criticality.
Staffing Supply Accelerator Group
Yesterday afternoon, the government established the Staffing Supply Accelerator Group to support the objectives of Ontario’s Long-Term Care Staffing Plan.
The group will advise on how to increase long-term care staffing supply by expanding and accelerating education and training for PSWs, RPNs, and RNs. Task teams will be established to focus on the following four priorities:
- Building an “Earn-as-you-Learn” PSW learning pathway that will include on-the-job education, onsite training, and micro-credentialing
- Bridging opportunities for PSWs to become accredited RPNs, and for RPNs to become RNs, to provide career progression pathways and accelerate the supply of RPNs and RNs
- Increasing enrolment and accelerating completion of existing training programs in support of the long-term care workforce; and
- Removing barriers to enable more internationally-trained professionals to become qualified to practice in Ontario.
The group will begin meeting this month and will operate for at least one year. A full list of group members is available here.