In a wide-ranging interview Friday, Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford touched on what he termed aggressive testing measures he hoped would help in the fight against COVID-19, as well as measures to reduce staff shortages, as well as look ahead carefully to a gradual reopening of the economy.

Rickford is also the minister responsible for Energy, Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs. During the pandemic, he's also a member of the emergency preparedness and economic recovery committees of cabinet. While still in isolation, the minister says he spends about three hours a day in cabinet meetings. So, he appreciates the feedback he gets from constituents, regarding developments in the riding.

As a former personal support worker, Rickford notes he has some appreciation of the low pay and poor working conditions involved. He assures PSW's there will be a lot more attention to their position, as the provincial government transitions out of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Late last week, Queen's Park moved to fill gaps in the Iron Ring around long-term care homes, as they passed measures to allow the reallocation of medical staff and support workers, in order to further protect residents of long-term care homes. 

Emergency Measures issued included:

  • Restricting retirement home employees from working in more than one retirement home, long-term care home or health care setting, with compliance required by April 22, 2020;
  • Providing Local Health Integration Networks with the ability to direct home care service provider organizations to safely reassign frontline staff to areas where they are most needed, including home and community care settings, long-term care homes, supportive housing, retirement homes and hospitals;
  • Providing municipalities and District Social Service Administration Boards with the flexibility to offer reassignments to certain staff to where there is local need during the outbreak, including child care, by-law enforcement, and public health services.

Premier Doug Ford is expected to release new modelling later today. While visibly upset and frustrated by the toll the coronavirus is taking on long-term care home residents, staff and their families, the premier is encouraged to see the number of overall patients in intensive care is about 245, far below the 1,600 estimate in previous modelling.

About 240 long-term care residents have died, during the coronavirus outbreak. As of yesterday, more than 100 of the 600 long-term care homes in Ontario had at least one case of COVID-19. 

These numbers in long-term care are also why the premier isn't in any hurry to reopen schools, as he said last week he wanted to continue and safeguard children.

Testing will be key to tracking the spread of COVID-19, as well as the management of resources in an effort to contain it, Rickford says. Along with lobbying to have test samples processed in Winnipeg, rather than Thunder Bay or Toronto, the minister would ultimately like to see test results coming from LWDH. 

As the provincial capacity increases to meet a goal of 15,000 a day by the first week of May, Rickford hopes to see some of the 900,000 Spartan test kits purchased by the province make their way to the riding, including the remote and rural communities. These will be in addition to 400,000 kits distributed by the federal government, Rickford noted.