Ontario sees 805 new COVID-19 cases amid new restrictions at York Region care homes

TORONTO — Ontario reported 805 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 new deaths related to the virus Saturday, as another Toronto-area public health unit imposed tighter restrictions on local long-term care homes. 

The new ban on all but essential visitors and caregivers went into effect in York Region amid what Health Minister Christine Elliott called an "alarming upward trend" in COVID-19 cases there.

The government issued a statement saying the only visitors now allowed at the facilities in the region north of Toronto are those deemed essential.

Effective Monday, and until further notice, long-term care home residents are also not allowed to have short-term and temporary absences for social or personal reasons. 

"We must act fast to address changing conditions to protect the residents and staff in Ontario's long-term care homes," Merrilee Fullerton, the province's minister of long-term care, said in a statement. 

Anyone planning a visit to a long-term care home is advised to contact the facility in advance for more information.

Saturday's provincial COVID-19 numbers came out of roughly 44,700 completed tests. 

Provincial case numbers over the past week, while still high, have not reached the single-day record of 939 new diagnoses reported Oct. 9

Elliott said 374 of the latest cases were recorded in Toronto, with 93 in York Region, 107 in Peel Region and 70 in Ottawa.

But in spite of Toronto's soaring numbers, crowds of anti-mask protesters flooded one of the city's busiest intersections on Saturday. 

Local police said a school bus with a loudspeaker that had been parked on the sidewalk near Yonge-Dundas Square had to be moved.  

Video from the scene shows throngs of maskless demonstrators holding signs as they fill the street outside the Eaton Centre. 

Police said everyone has the right to peacefully demonstrate, but officers are on scene for the sake of safety. 

Meanwhile, the province announced Friday that York Region was joining the other three COVID-19 hot spots in moving back to a modified Stage 2 of pandemic protocol starting Monday.

Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa were placed under similar restrictions amid rising cases a week ago.

The modified Stage 2 includes the closure of gyms and movie theatres, a ban on indoor dining in restaurants or bars, and restrictions capping public gatherings at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

The tighter measures will be in place for 28 days.

Ontario now has a total of 63,713 cases of COVID-19, including 54,686 that are considered resolved and 3,041 deaths. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2020.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press