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Ontario reports 19 new COVID-19 cases, total now at 79

TORONTO — Ontario's total COVID-19 cases surged to 79 on Friday as the province's top health official recommended the immediate suspension of large public gatherings and most major universities cancelled in-person classes.

TORONTO — Ontario's total COVID-19 cases surged to 79 on Friday as the province's top health official recommended the immediate suspension of large public gatherings and most major universities cancelled in-person classes.

The province reported 19 new cases, including a man in his 80s who is hospitalized. All of the other people with the illness — in Toronto, York Region, Peel Region, Ottawa, Niagara, and Waterloo — are in self-isolation.

Most of the new cases are in people who recently travelled to places such as the United States and Egypt or have had close contacts with other confirmed cases. Six cases are not listed with specific sources of transmission, including the Niagara case, but health officials said the investigations into those cases are ongoing.

In a memo Friday, chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams recommended the immediate suspension of all large events and public gatherings of more than 250 people. Organizers of smaller events should consult with their local public health units, Williams wrote.

"I call on all Ontarians to recognize the risk of attending public gatherings and to practice social distancing as much as possible until further notice to manage the spread of illness," Williams wrote. "Organizations that can take advantage of virtual options to continue providing services are strongly encouraged to do so."

A day after Education Minister Stephen Lecce ordered all public schools closed for two weeks following March break, Williams said all licensed child-care centres should actively screen children, parents, staff and visitors for symptoms or travel history that may be related to COVID-19.

"It is critical that we keep COVID-19 out of our child-care spaces," Williams wrote.

Toronto's medical officer of health, however, announced late Friday that all licensed child-care centres would be closed until April 5. Dr. Eileen de Villa also "strongly" recommended that anyone who has travelled recently outside of Canada self-isolate for two weeks.

The mayor of Toronto, who returned from a trade mission to London, England, on Wednesday, said that advice also applied to him.

"I will be going into self-isolation for the next 12 days as per Dr. de Villa's advice," John Tory said in a statement. "Right now, I have no symptoms whatsoever and feel great."

There was no word Friday afternoon from Lecce on whether he would issue a directive or specific guidance to child-care centres.

However, the province's largest school board announced it would close all of the daycares in its schools until April 5.

"We recognize that these closures and cancellations will be challenging for many families.... However, this approach is to ensure the health and well-being of all families," John Malloy, director of education for the Toronto District School Board, said in a statement.

The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care called on Lecce to give child-care centres located outside of schools a clear public health directive.

"Since both schools and school-based child care are being temporarily closed in response to the pandemic, is social distancing not equally important for community-based child-care programs?" the group said in a statement.

Williams and Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, both recommended people avoid all non-essential travel. 

Meanwhile, some of Ontario's largest universities have cancelled in-person classes over COVID-19 concerns. The University of Toronto, York University, Ryerson University, Western University, Carleton University and McMcaster University are among the post-secondary institutions to announce such closures.

Schools are moving classes online and many have cancelled all discretionary events.

Several tourist and cultural attractions across the province announced closures for the next few weeks including the CN Tower, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the Stratford Festival and the national museums, including the National Gallery of Canada.

The Ontario legislature suspended all tours until at least April 3.

The archiodecese of Toronto cancelled public mass for this weekend.

Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries Minister Lisa MacLeod said in a statement Friday that she and Health Minister Christine Elliott are regularly speaking with other tourist attractions such as the Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario and Ontario Science Centre "to proactively initiate the latest health, safety, and cleanliness protocols."

Several municipalities announced they were closing facilities, such as Mississauga, which announced it is closing all recreation, library and cultural facilities until April 5, including March break programs. The Hot Docs film festival is being postponed.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said city council members are suspending attendance at community events in the interest of social distancing.

Five of Ontario's cases have been resolved, meaning the patients have had two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2020.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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