Ford Announces 6 Phases of Fall COVID-19 Preparedness Plan

Ford Announces 6 Phases of Fall COVID-19 Preparedness Plan
Ontario Premier Doug Ford stands in front of a selection of his cabinet ministers during a joint press conference with Quebec Premier Francois Legault at the Ontario-Quebec Summit, in Toronto on Sept. 9, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Chris Young)

In preparation for a possible second wave of COVID-19 coming during the flu season, the Ontario government laid out its six steps to their fall preparedness plan this afternoon, emphasizing testing and flu shots.

The announcement comes as daily virus case counts have begun rising again in the province.

Minister of Health Christie Elliot said the best defence continues to be the usual actions to help stop the spread of the virus, like physical distancing, face coverings, and staying home when ill.

The flu season however presents a new challenge to Ontario’s response to any future outbreaks of the virus.

Flu shots will provide the next best defence, Elliot said. Flu shots are proven to reduce emergency department visits and wait times, helping to preserve hospital capacity for any surges in cases.

Premier Doug Ford said that protecting seniors is the number one priority in Ontario, while getting tested is the second priority and getting flu shots is the third.

“With the number of cases on the rise it’s clear that the next wave will come at us harder than the last one.  It will be more challenging than before, because the flu season is starting soon,” he said.

Seniors will be the first ones to receive the flu shots as soon as they’re available, which should be as early as next week.

The first pillar of the fall preparedness plan is to help the hospitals maintain their capacity so people can use them when needed most, along with the flu shot.

“The flu shot helps reduce visits to our emergency rooms and doctor’s offices, during this season,” Ford said.

Ford also said that clearing the backlog of surgeries that have accumulated will be discussed in the next few days.

The Ontario government is spending $70 million to deliver the most comprehensive flu shot campaign in Canada’s history, Ford said, and has ordered 5.1 million doses of the flu shot for the province.

“Anyone who wants a flu shot can get one,” he said.

High-dose flu shots will be will be prioritized for long-term care homes, retirement homes, and hospitals to protect seniors and the most vulnerable.

Dramatically increasing flu testing is also a critical part in the fall plan, which is focused on six key areas.

Number one is maintaining strong public health measures, including expansion of testing and contact management. The province has already increased to 25,000 tests per day on a regular basis. On Saturday over 40,000 tests were done in one day. The testing is only the specimen collection part. The specimen then needs to go to the lab, so lab capacity is increasing as well.

The second step is to implement the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history; the third will be to quickly identify, manage, and prevent any virus outbreaks; the fourth will be accelerating efforts to reduce health services backlogs; the fifth will be preparing for surges in COVID-19 cases; and number six will be recruiting, retaining, and supporting health-care workers, while continuing to engage families and caregivers.