October 2, 2020
Today, Premier Doug Ford and Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, announced the tightening of public health measures in Ontario. This announcement follows the release of updated modeling data earlier this week, which indicated that Ontario could see up to 1,000 new cases of the virus daily by mid-October.
New measures being implemented include steps to improve the process and reduce the backlog of COVID-19 testing in the province, province-wide mandatory masking in public indoor settings, and targeted measures for the hotspot regions of Toronto, Peel and Ottawa.
In addition, the government is recommending that all Ontarians limit close contact with anyone outside of their immediate household.
Premier Ford and Minister Elliott were joined by Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams; Chief Coroner for Ontario, Dr. Dirk Huyer; and President and CEO of Ontario Health, Matt Anderson.
New Testing Measures
In order to reduce outdoor lineups at assessment centres throughout the cooler months, Ontario will be transitioning to appointment-based testing at assessment centres on Tuesday, October 6th. Assessment centres will stop offering walk-in testing services on Sunday, October 4th. The two-day testing pause will provide assessment centres with an opportunity to reset and clean, and will enable the province’s lab network to make progress in clearing the current testing backlog of over 90,000.
The government will continue to work on expanding the availability of testing outside of assessment centres. Mobile testing and pop-up testing centres will be deployed to reach vulnerable populations, including in long-term care and other congregate settings. Efforts to expand the number of pharmacies offering testing are also underway.
Longer-term efforts to improve Ontario’s testing and contact tracing regime include increasing testing and processing capacity to 68,000 tests per day by mid-November and introducing rapid testing options once approved by Health Canada.
Tightened Public Health Measures
In response to the recent growth in cases of COVID-19 across the province, the government has mandated the use of face coverings in all public indoor settings. This restriction comes into effect province-wide at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, October 3rd and applies to activities such as shopping, using public transit, and working in a setting where physical distancing is not possible. Limited exceptions apply for corrections and developmental services.
The government is also extending the pause on any further reopening of businesses or facilities for an additional 28 days.
In addition, the government has “paused” the concept of social circles, and recommends that Ontarians limit close contact with anyone who lives outside of one’s immediate household. In recognition of the extreme isolation felt during the first wave of the virus, individuals who live in a small household (such as alone or with a roommate) may consider having close contact with one other household.
In response to confusion surrounding the new guidelines, Dr. Williams clarified that the government opted not to include a strict definition of “immediate household,” but reiterated the importance of following precautions, tightening one’s network of close contacts, and keeping social gatherings (particularly during Thanksgiving) as small as possible.
Targeted Measures in Toronto, Peel, Ottawa
Targeted measures will also be implemented in higher-risk settings in the hotspot regions of Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa, due to their higher rates of transmission.
Effective Saturday, October 3rd at 12:01 a.m., the following measures will apply to food and drink establishments, gyms and fitness settings, and event facilities in hotspots:
- Food and drink establishments (including restaurants, bars, and nightclubs) must restrict occupancy to a number of patrons that allows all patrons to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from each other, with a maximum capacity of 100 patrons.
- No more than six patrons will be permitted at one table.
- Name and contact information must be collected for each patron for contact tracing purposes.
- Operators must ensure that patrons lining up or congregating outside the establishment maintain physical distancing.
- Gyms and fitness settings must restrict the total number of people allowed in the facility to a maximum of 50.
- Group classes must be restricted to 10 people.
- Meeting and event facilities (including banquet halls) must restrict the total number of people allowed in the facility to a maximum of 50.
- No more than six people are permitted at one table.
Toronto Medical Officer of Health Calls on Province to Enhance Public Health Measures for the City of Toronto
Today, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, wrote to Dr. Williams, asking for the province to implement additional public health measures for the City of Toronto, in order to mitigate the risk of community transmission of COVID-19.
Dr. de Villa’s recommendations for the City of Toronto include:
- Closing indoor dining at restaurants and bars.
- Advising that individuals only leave their homes for essential activities, including work, education, fitness, healthcare appointments, and to purchase food. Up to two individuals from outside a household would be permitted to provide social support for individuals living alone.
- Discontinuing group classes in gyms, as well as indoor recreation and sports activities.
- Requiring that large venues submit a plan to Toronto Public Health to demonstrate how they will comply with public health measures, such as seating that ensures physical distancing and a method of collecting contact information.
Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, Dr. de Villa explained that she sought legal counsel regarding the above recommendations. Legal advice suggested that it would be “unprecedented” for a local medical officer of health to implement the broad measures outlined above, and that Dr. de Villa could risk exceeding her authority and being found personally liable for doing so. As a result, Dr. de Villa is requesting that Dr. Williams use his legislative powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Provincial Emergency Order to enact her recommendations, or alternatively, that the necessary legislative and/or regulatory changes are made to grant her the authority to ac