Peggy Sattler MPP, London West

Government of Ontario
 

Hello Neighbour,

It has been an eventful week in our community, with record-high numbers of COVID-19 patients hospitalized, and more and more hospital staff testing positive with COVID. With the return of in-person learning in our schools, cases among staff with school-aged children are likely to increase.

The Omicron wave does not yet appear to be subsiding, and it remains critically important that we continue to follow public health advice, including getting vaccinated for those who are eligible. The data is clear that vaccines reduce the likelihood of serious illness. As of January 13, 2022, the Ontario Science Table reports a 79 percent reduction in hospitalization associated with at least two doses, and a 90.8 percent reduction in admission to ICU.

I know we are all concerned by the impact of the highly contagious Omicron variant on long-term care and retirement homes. Long-term care residents are once again facing outbreaks that are reducing staffing levels and leading to forced isolation and inadequate care. The Ontario NDP is calling for a massive staff-up to care for residents, and ensure proper infection prevention and control. Our proposal includes an immediate raise for PSWs, hazard pay, N95 masks, and paid sick days for all workers, plus staffing levels that would provide every resident with four hours of hands-on care each day. 

As the Omicron wave continues to put pressure on our local health care system, necessary but non-emergent surgeries have been paused, leaving many Londoners living with pain and fearing for their health. We must do everything we can to blunt this wave and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed, so that the health care services people rely on are there when they need them. 

Stay safe and take care,

My community office is available to help with provincial programs and services by phone at 519-657-3120 or by email at [email protected] In-person meetings can be arranged by appointment only.

 
In this newsletter:
 
London and Middlesex County’s millionth dose of COVID-19 vaccine was administered yesterday! The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) announced the milestone one year and 20 days after the vaccination effort kicked off at the Western Fair District Agriplex on December 23, 2020. Since then, an average of 2,597 doses of vaccine have been administered each day at settings ranging from mass vaccination clinics, hospitals, primary care practices and pharmacies, to long-term care and retirement homes, mobile and pop-up clinics, congregate living settings, workplaces and First Nations communities

Huge thanks to staff and volunteers from MLHU, City of London, County of Middlesex, London Health Sciences Centre, Middlesex-London Paramedic Services, Thames Valley Family Health Team, primary care, and pharmacies who have worked in partnership to deliver COVID-19 vaccines in our community! 
 

Return to Class

The government has confirmed that students will return to in-person learning on Monday, January 17. It is vital that schools be open, but I know that this week's announcement raised questions about how the province is ensuring classrooms are safe. Plans are continuing to evolve and information is changing rapidly, so please feel free to reach out to me if you need help getting answers. Here is what the Minister of Education announced yesterday:
  • On Monday January 17, two Rapid Antigen Tests will be provided to each staff person and child in child care and elementary school. Secondary school staff will receive two tests, while secondary students will receive tests as needed. The Minister of Education stated that these tests are intended for use when symptomatic rather than for the routine screening they were intended for over the winter break. This does not help parents protect their kids from contracting COVID-19 or from spreading it, since we know that people can be contagious before the onset of symptoms, if they develop symptoms at all. I continue to call for many more rapid antigen test to be available, and for children under 5, who cannot be vaccinated, to be eligible for free PCR testing.
     
  • Cohorts will no longer be required to isolate when there is an exposure in the group. Families will be notified when 30 percent of the staff and students at their entire school are absent, but will not receive notifications about COVID-19 cases in their children's classrooms. In response to public pressure since yesterday's announcement, the government has indicated that families will have access to daily absentee data starting January 24. Again, this is for the whole school, not individual classrooms.
     
  • Education and childcare staff will be provided with non-fitted N95 masks that they may choose to use if they wish. 3-ply masks are being distributed to schools for student use if required.
     
  • 3,000 HEPA filters are being distributed to learning environments across Ontario. TVDSB's Director of Education told CBC London today that come Monday, there will be HEPA filters in about 25 to 30 percent of that board's classrooms. My London MPP colleagues and I raised concerns that only 89 of the 3,000 filters promised will go TVDSB, one of the largest boards in the province, despite the fact that 350 priority classrooms have been identified to receive them. 
     
  • Vaccination clinics that require parental consent will be established in schools. There is no word yet on which schools will have these clinics.
     
  • The province's COVID-19 School and Child Care screening tools have been updated to reflect changes in common symptoms associated with the latest wave of COVID-19. 
I know the return to school comes as a huge relief for many families who have been struggling to balance online learning with working from home or who have had to take time away from work. Still, families were hoping for more action that would give them the confidence to send kids back to school with peace of mind. I am continuing to call for:
  • A vaccine blitz for students with in-school vaccine clinics with permission from parents, and an outreach campaign including culturally-relevant outreach
  • Mandatory vaccination for all teachers and education workers
  • Reduced class sizes and school busloads
  • Free rapid tests for all students, teachers and education staff
  • Access to PCR tests again
  • Reporting of COVID cases in schools
  • Improved ventilation in all schools and regular on-site air quality testing
  • Free N95 masks for all teachers and education workers
  • Support for teachers and staff to help address critical learning gaps caused by previous shutdowns
Shots for education and child care workers
The government has opened several vaccination clinics for education and child care workers, but all of them are in the GTHA. Instead of a dedicated clinic, the Middlesex-London Health Unit has stepped up to make vaccinations more accessible by saving spaces for education and child care workers. Eligible people can book these appointments through Portal 4 at covidvaccinelm.ca.
 

22,000 More Nurses Needed

Andrea Horwath and the President of the Ontario Nurses’ Association have announced a proposed solution to Ontario's nursing shortage.

Ontario now needs 22,000 more nurses. Burnt out and disrespected nurses have been leaving in droves during the pandemic after being run off their feet, working double shifts day after day, coping with PPE shortages, and caring for too many patients at once, all while having their wages capped at an effective pay cut by Bill 124.

Entering the pandemic, nurses were already at a disadvantage. Hospital funding freezes caused 1,600 nurse layoffs during the last government, which left Ontario with the worst RN-to-population ratio in Canada. Even before COVID-19 led to nurses being out sick in record numbers, they were already swamped on every shift, and these issues cannot be fixed by waiting out the pandemic.

We can do better for nurses and patients, though, and we have a plan to turn things around and start getting more nurses into hospitals right away. Our urgent and long-term solutions include the following actions: 
  • Repeal the low-wage law, Bill 124
  • Make more nursing positions full-time instead of part-time or temporary
  • Keep existing nurses and health-care workers by improving their working conditions – end team nursing, and have proper skill mix
  • Create new jobs for late-career and recently-retired nurses to mentor and support
  • Provide free, in-person mental health supports for all frontline health care workers
  • Provide 10 permanent paid sick days, plus 14 during a pandemic
  • Provide full access to PPE, including N95 masks, all the time
  • Mandate a minimum four hours of hands-on care by nurses and PSWs for every nursing home resident now
  • Fund more university seats for nursing programs and fix issues with clinical placements
 

New Small Business Grant

The province announced a new program, the Ontario COVID-19 Business Relief Grant, to provide eligible small businesses impacted by the current lockdown measures with a grant payment of $10,000.

Eligible businesses that qualified for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and that are subject to closure under modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen will be pre-screened to verify eligibility and will not need to apply to the new program. Newly established and newly eligible small businesses will need to apply once the application portal opens in the coming weeks (the government has not specified a date yet). Small businesses that qualify can expect to receive their payment in February.

Businesses with fewer than 100 employers that are required to close due to public health orders that took effect on January 5, 2022 (i.e. under the modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen) are eligible, including:
  • Restaurants and bars
  • Facilities for indoor sports and recreational fitness activities (including fitness centres and gyms)
  • Performing arts and cinemas
  • Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions
  • Meeting or event spaces
  • Tour and guide services
  • Conference centres and convention centres
  • Driving instruction for individuals
  • Before- and after- school programs

I know that for many London businesses this is far too little, far too late, and I will continue to press the government to introduce the kind of support that is needed to keep small businesses and the jobs they provide in our community through pandemic recovery. That includes grants tailored to cover the losses in various sectors, a deferral of HST payments, and a commercial eviction ban.

Ontario Business Costs Rebate
The government also announced that online applications for the previously-announced Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program will open next week, on Tuesday, January 18. This program will provide eligible businesses with a rebate on property tax and energy costs. 

Need help with a grant?
Previous rounds of business support grants have been plagued by delays and confusion with many businesses finding themselves unexpectedly denied or their payments significantly delayed. As we have in previous rounds, my office will work to get businesses timely information and I will continue to push for more direct, immediate supports.

 

Around London

The London Music Office and Forest City Film Festival have partnered with The ISO Project to provide an exciting new Music Video Incubator Program for Artists of Colour in London. The ISO Project provides mentorship and guidance for artists and creators of colour, while encouraging co-creation and collaboration across local Music and Film industries. Musicians are paired with a POC production team to create a music video for free, while the Production team are paid for their work. The ISO Project makes space for co-creation between artists of colour in London Ontario for every part of the creative and production process. Applications are open from January 12 - March 1, 2022 at londonmusicoffice.com/iso-project.
 

Business owners can help fuel recovery directly in our community by completing the EmployerOne Survey, conducted every year by the Elgin Middlesex Oxford Workforce Planning and Development Board to better understand the needs of locally owned businesses. The survey is open now until January 31.
 

Today Skills Ontario launched a FREE NEW APP for those interested in exploring a skilled trades career. Download the app to access scholarship & bursary opportunities, a calendar of fun events, a quiz to learn what careers may be right for you .. and more! There are cool prizes for the first 100 users to download the app and create an account.  

 

COVID-19 Developments

  • Testing and self-isolation guidelines have recently changed, and both the Ministry of Health and Middlesex-London Health Unit have released new information to help navigate these changes.

    The Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Integrated Testing & Case, Contact and Outbreak Management Interim Guidance: Omicron Surge document provides decision trees to help answer the following questions:
    • What to do if you have symptoms and are concerned you may have COVID-19. (Page 10)
    • What to do if you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 on either a PCR, rapid molecular, or rapid antigen test. (Page 13)
    • What to do if you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 on either a PCR, rapid molecular, or rapid antigen test AND you work in a setting deemed to be at highest risk. (Page 15)

    The Middlesex-London Health Unit's self-isolation requirements webpage also provides information for those:
  • The mass vaccination clinic at Earl Nichols Arena is now open, making thousands more appointments available each week. Appointments at Earl Nichols can be booked Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, though covidvaccinelm.ca.
     
  • Education and child care workers can now access spots reserved for them at specific mass vaccination clinics by booking through Portal 4 at covidvaccinelm.ca.
     
  • The province's COVID-19 self-assessment and COVID-19 School and Child Care screening tools have been updated to reflect changes in common symptoms associated with the latest wave of COVID-19. 
     
  • The City of London has now posted and is maintaining a list of approved emergency child care providers that may be accessed by eligible frontline workers.
     
  • The Middlesex-London Health Unit is noting that the number of confirmed cases reported likely underestimates the true number of people infected with COVID-19 in our community due to the limited access to testing.
     
  • Effective January 10, organizations and businesses that require proof of vaccination will no longer be permitted to accept medical notes of proof of exemption from vaccination. A QR code will be required. Individuals who may be eligible for a medical exemption must have their risk confirmed through an assessment by a designated health care professional. If the risk is confirmed, a Medical Exemption Form must be completed and sent directly to the Middlesex-London Health Unit by the practitioner, after which the exempted individual will be able to access their enhanced vaccine certificate from the COVID-19 vaccination portal.
     
  • The Ontario COVID-19 Science Table has released a report on the return to school. The report states that vaccination, ventilation and filtration, cohorting, testing, staying home when sick and high-quality masks mitigate risks of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

Everyone born in 2016 or earlier is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario, and everyone aged 18 and over is now eligible for a third booster dose.

  • Make an appointment at an MLHU mass vaccination clinic
    • Call the Boys & Girls Club transit services at 519-434-9119 (8am - 5:30pm, Monday to Friday) to book a ride if you have mobility issues and cannot get to a clinic yourself
    • You can also get vaccinated in your car at a mass clinic (call 226-289-3560 to book, 8am - 7:30pm, Monday - Friday)
  • Visit a walk-in pop-up clinic
  • Make an appointment at a participating pharmacy
  • If you cannot leave your home, arrange a vaccination at home (call 519-663-5317, 8am - 7:30pm, Monday - Friday)
For the most up-to-date information, please refer to linked sources and the COVID-19 information provided at the Middlesex-London Health Unit website, COVID-19.Ontario.ca, London.ca/covid-19, Canada.ca/coronavirus. You can also find a range of helpful resources on my website at peggysattler.ca/covid19resources.