QUEEN'S PARK — Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath is calling on the government to conduct an independent Preparedness Review of the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic and Ontario’s readiness for a potential second wave.
“People and small businesses are doing their part to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19, but is the government doing everything it can to shield us against the health and economic impacts of a second wave?” Horwath asked. “Premier Ford’s claims that we’re ready for the second wave echo his claims from February that we were ready for the first wave. We weren’t. Not in long-term care, not when it came to our PPE stockpile, not when it came to planning for scheduled surgeries and cancer care, not in testing and contact tracing, and not when it came to migrant workers.
“Instead of Premier Ford’s eight-week campaign photo op tour, I’m calling on him to get an assessment of our readiness for the second wave, and address gaps and shortfalls quickly, to save Ontarians from any more devastation.”
Alberta has a similar review already underway, examining things like staffing levels in long-term care and health care, reviewing the decision-making process and ensuring N95 masks are stockpiled.
Horwath says Ontario’s independent Preparedness Review should be complete by fall, and should examine data and contact tracing, personal protective equipment stocks, the resources needed in long-term care, schools and throughout the health sector, and more.
Under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, the government has the power to appoint an independent reviewer who would have powers under the Public Inquiries Act to summon witnesses, compel evidence, protect whistleblowers and hold public hearings.
The Official Opposition would like the review to look at the following areas:
Public Health decision-making
Ontario public health faced an exodus of senior leadership immediately before the COVID-19 outbreak. Medical experts have repeatedly flagged problems with confusing decision-making processes. Premier Doug Ford has refused to name the individuals at the government Command Table. A review would assess whether Ontario has the expertise required and proper systems in place to confront a second wave.
Data collection and contact tracing
The province has been repeatedly criticized for its efforts on data collection and sharing during the pandemic and operates multiple, and at times contradictory, data systems. Delays in contact tracing have also raised repeated concern. A review would assess Ontario’s efforts to date, incorporate lessons from other jurisdictions that have seen more success, lay out what needs to change if there’s a resurgence of infections.
Protective Personal Equipment
Throughout the first wave of COVID-19, health care workers routinely reported an inability to access personal protective equipment (PPE) – even when the government insisted it was available. A review would look at adequacy of supply and the ability of frontline staff to access appropriate PPE including N95 respirator masks.
Long-term care, retirement homes and other congregate care settings
Ontario delayed basic actions such as taking over management of facilities and has yet to address ongoing human resource challenges. A review would look at what went wrong and what steps need to be taken to ensure residents can be protected.
Health sector workforce
Front-line health workers have been put in harm’s way, working unsustainable hours and putting their health and safety at risk. The government’s solution has been to override collective agreements and, in some cases, ask the Canadian Armed Forces to help. A review would address the staffing shortfall, and best practices for hiring workers and keeping them safe and healthy.
Experts warn that the province was already facing a hallway medicine crisis before COVID began. A review would look at hospitals’ readiness to meet a second wave; including how to meet the needs of patients in ALC beds, and those awaiting scheduled surgeries and cancer treatments, which were largely delayed during the first wave.
Schools and childcare
A review would assess the resources required to safely re-open schools, and their ability to respond to a second wave.
Public Health Units have found that community spread of COVID-19 has been high for essential workers who were unable to isolate themselves and their families. Many workers have raised concerns about workplace inspections, and particularly a lack of on-site inspection. Ministry of Labour staff have raised concerns about lack of protective equipment. A review would look at workplace protections and make recommendations on how best to respond to a second wave.
Migrant workers and vulnerable populations
Forcing people into cramped, shared living spaces leaves them and the community around them vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. In Ontario, nearly 1,000 migrant workers have been infected and three have died, while other jurisdictions, like British Columbia, have taken pro-active steps and prevented two dozen potential outbreaks. A review would look at what steps Ontario has failed to take and best practices from other jurisdictions for migrant workers, homeless populations and other vulnerable people.