May 13, 2020 / 11:34 PM / 15 days ago

Ontario redeploys educators into nursing homes, as just one facility records 56 deaths

TORONTO, May 13 (Reuters) - The Canadian province of Ontario is allowing its education staff, including teachers and custodians, to voluntarily redeploy into the province's long-term care homes, the provincial government said on Wednesday, as the coronavirus outbreak at just one Toronto-area home alone has killed dozens.

Coronavirus deaths in long-term care nursing homes account for 815 of 1,765 total deaths in Ontario, Canada's most populous province, according to provincial data released on Wednesday.

Camilla Care Community recorded 56 deaths, according to the home's owner, Sienna Senior Living, on Wednesday. The regional health authority reported 179 residents and 39 staff have tested positive at the facility.

In March, Ontario closed schools in an effort to stop the spread of the virus, requiring many educators and other staff to leave their jobs. This latest redeployment focuses on training and moving any employees who volunteer into nursing homes.

Ontario has previously moved workers from hospitals into long-term care homes, and Wednesday's announcement expands the province's support for the facilities, which have been hit hard by the virus.

The province also issued an emergency order on Wednesday morning, allowing the provincial government to issue mandatory management orders to any long-term care home struggling to deal with an outbreak.

Open roles include custodial and social work positions, and workers can volunteer "knowing that they will be fully trained, that they will be provided with PPE (personal protective equipment), that they will continue to maintain their employment relationship with the school board," Ontario's education minister, Stephen Lecce, said at a briefing on Wednesday.

The news comes as provinces around the country take steps to gradually loosen social restrictions in place since March.

The Pacific province of British Columbia is allowing religious gatherings as of next week of up to 50 people, provided that social distancing rules can still be followed. The provincial health officer, Bonnie Henry, urged religious leaders to consider keeping services short and held in the largest space possible.

"Now is our time to very cautiously, thoughtfully, move ahead with opening things up again," Henry said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Quebec, Canada's epicenter, is allowing the resumption of some leisure activities, including golf and tennis, from May 20, officials said.

Alberta, which has the third-highest number of infections among provinces, will implement the next phase of its reopening plan on Thursday except in Calgary and Brooks, where combined cases make up 75% of the provincial total. The same restrictions will lift in those cities more gradually.

The western province's daily case numbers and hospitalizations have peaked, allowing the province to open more of its economy, including restaurants at 50% capacity and hair salons, Premier Jason Kenney said. He warned that residents need to maintain physical distancing limits.

"If we slack off, people in our communities, and maybe people we love, will suffer," Kenney said. (Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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