The City of Toronto continues to respond to COVID-19. Today, Mayor John Tory, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa and Fire Chief and General Manager of the Office of Emergency Management Matthew Pegg announced the City is requesting that Toronto remain in the Shutdown Zone under the provincial Lockdown Regulation and subject to the Stay-at-Home Order until March 9 at the earliest in order to protect the healthcare system and save lives.
Since the start of the pandemic there have been a total of 93,455 cases of COVID-19 in the city, an increase of 302 new cases today. There are 378 people hospitalized. To date, there have been 2,563 COVID-19 deaths in Toronto. In total, 86,749 people have recovered. Case status data can be found on the City’s reporting platform.
Both Dr. de Villa and Peel’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence C. Loh have written to Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, to request a two-week extension of the Lockdown Regulation-Shutdown Zone and Stay-at-Home Order in Toronto and Peel. The extension request would take the two Grey-lockdowns up to March 9th at the earliest before gradually reopening. The request stems from significant concern around new COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC) that are appearing in settings across Toronto. Variants have now been identified in long-term care homes, hospitals, a shelter and a meat packing plant. The extension of the regulation would allow public health officials to focus on the safe reopening of schools and monitoring the new variants in the city.
Dr. de Villa explained the current concerning situation in Toronto, characterizing today’s variant count as the tip of an iceberg. On February 13, Dr. de Villa and Peel’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence C. Loh wrote to Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, to request a two-week extension of the Lockdown Regulation-Shutdown Zone and Stay-at-Home Order in Toronto and Peel. In the letter, Drs. de Villa and Loh outline four critical reasons to delay the cities re-entering the provincial Response Framework on February 22:
- Percentage of population vaccinated: While the City and healthcare partners have been able to vaccinate many long-term care and high-risk retirement home residents, staff and essential caregivers, Toronto and Peel currently have largely unvaccinated populations. With uncertainty related to supply, it is unclear when the City and partners will be able to continue to vaccinate large portions of the population.
- Experience of other jurisdictions with variants of concern: Learning from other jurisdictions shows variant growth can be exponential without significant public health measures in place. A loosening of public health measures runs the significant risk of leading to another potential lockdown. As we have seen in other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland, additional measures and strong lockdowns have been required to curb the increase of variant of concern transmission.
- Reopening schools safely: Keeping the current measures in place for a sufficient period after the reopening of schools allows local public health to mitigate the risk to students and staff as they return to in-person learning.
- Public perception: In reviewing recent mobility data, only when the province-wide shutdown began on December 26, followed by the provincial Stay-at-Home Order and Emergency Declaration did public health officials see a significant decline in mobility of residents. Even in the absence of changes to public health measures, data has recently started to show an increase in mobility that could result in more contacts which, in turn, increases risk of COVID-19 transmission. Reopening in any degree influences public perception of risk and may give a false sense of security.
- “I know extending the lockdown will cause continuing hurt for many businesses. But I also know we have followed the public health advice throughout this pandemic so that we can keep as many people healthy as possible and save as many lives as we possibly can,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory. “Our approach has allowed us to beat the first wave and flatten the curve, and while there have been far too many tragedies, we have protected our healthcare system and we have avoided the worst-case scenarios predicted in earlier modelling – scenarios that we have seen in real-life in other jurisdictions around the world. Despite the huge dislocation the pandemic has caused for people and businesses, the worst mistake we could make right now is to ignore the advice of our medical experts and to begin to re-open too quickly. We absolutely do not want to find ourselves opening things up, even slightly and then having to close down again a few weeks from now,” said Tory.
Meanwhile Ontario’s Minister of Health, Christine Elliott has said that the province will meet Friday morning and the public will learn of cabinet’s decision for Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and North Bay Parry Sound later in the day. The minister also says the province is taking the request seriously and carefully considering it.
The full letter is available online: Medical Officer of Health Letter: Return to the Provincial Framework for Peel and Toronto on February 22, 2021.