The Ontario government has developed a $2.8 billion COVID-19 fall preparedness plan to ensure Ontario’s health care, long-term care and education systems are ready for seasonal challenges, according to a press release issued on Wednesday.
Premier Doug Ford said the plan, called “Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19,” will enable Ontario to identify, prevent, and respond to surges and waves of the virus to protect the health and safety of people in the province.
"For months, our government has been developing one of the most robust and comprehensive COVID-19 fall preparedness plans in the entire country," said Ford in the press release. "We are making an unprecedented investment of over $2 billion to fortify the frontlines of our health care system and ensure we are prepared for future waves of this virus, while ensuring patients and long-term care residents continue to receive the absolute best care from our top-notch health care professionals and their loved ones."
The press release said “Keeping Ontarians Safe” focuses on six areas to identify and respond to COVID-19 outbreaks and surges, build health care system capacity, and reinforce Ontario’s health care workforce.
The first area is maintaining strong public health measures, including continued expansion of testing and case and contact management. Ontario is investing $1.38 billion to enhance and expand efforts to test, trace, and identify new COVID-19 cases. There will be $1.07 billion dedicated to expanding laboratory capacity, reducing testing backlogs, assisting existing assessment centres, and adding more testing locations and capacity.
Another area being prioritized is implementing the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history. Ontario is investing about $70 million to purchase and distribute flu vaccines to deliver a larger campaign this year. The government will put $26.5 million towards purchasing and administering additional flu vaccine doses if required and $2 million to purchase additional antiviral medication to handle outbreak management of influenza in institutions.
The press release said money will be directed at identifying, managing, and preventing COVID-19 outbreaks. Ontario is spending $30 million to build on handling COVID-19 outbreaks. This money will be used to deal with outbreaks in sectors such as education, child care, agriculture, and health care.
Ontario will work to reduce health care backlogs. The government is spending $283.7 million to ease the health care system’s backlogs by supporting extended hours for additional priority surgeries and diagnostic imaging. One hundred thirty-nine critical care beds and 1,349 hospital beds in hospitals and alternate health facilities will be added to support more surgical procedures.
Ontario will be preparing for surges in COVID-19 cases. The government is dedicating $457.49 million to ensure the health care system can respond to surges or waves of COVID-19 without interrupting routine health services. This money includes providing up to 850 alternate levels of care patients with access to care in a home or community setting to add more capacity in hospitals.
The sixth area is recruiting, retaining, and supporting health care workers. Ontario is investing $52.5 million to recruit, retain, and support frontline health care workers and caregivers to permit the health care system to deal with any surges. This money will provide safe, high-quality care to patients and long-term care residents.
Ontario is taking these measures despite the risk of COVID-19 being low and non-threatening. COVID-19 cases have been increasing in Ontario in the last few weeks, but 84.9 per cent of them have been resolved.
Daily deaths in Ontario are among some of the lowest since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Ontario recorded four deaths on Sept. 30.
Hospitalizations in Ontario are minimal compared to where they were in the beginning of the pandemic. One hundred fifty people are hospitalized with COVID-19. There are 35 people in the ICU, and 17 are on ventilators.