October 9, 2020, Premier Doug Ford and Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, announced the reintroduction of modified stage two public health restrictions in “hotspot” regions of the province experiencing high rates of COVID-19 community transmission. These measures will come into effect on Saturday, October 10th at 12:01 a.m., and will remain in place for at least 28 days in an effort to flatten the second wave curve of COVID-19 in Ontario.
In anticipation of the impact today’s announcement will have on Ontario’s small businesses, the government plans to make $300 million available to assist affected businesses with fixed costs.
Premier Ford and Minister Elliott were joined by Minister of Finance, Rod Phillips; Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, and Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Steini Brown.
Earlier this afternoon, health officials, including Dr. Williams, Steini Brown, and Chief Coroner for Ontario, Dr. Dirk Huyer, held a media briefing regarding today’s announcement and the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Ontario.
Reintroduction of Stage Two Measures in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel
This afternoon, Premier Ford and Minister Elliott announced the reintroduction of modified stage two public health restrictions in regions of the province experiencing high rates of COVID-19 community transmission. This announcement comes after a record-breaking 939 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Ontario today.
Effective tomorrow, Saturday, October 10th at 12:01 a.m., the following restrictions will be in place for a minimum of 28 days, in the public health regions of Toronto, Ottawa and Peel:
- All social gatherings and organized public events are limited to a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, with physical distancing. For wedding receptions, this new gathering limit will be effective beginning Tuesday, October 13th at 12:01 a.m.
- Indoor food and drink service is prohibited at food and drink establishments, including restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and food court areas. These businesses may continue to offer outdoor dining, takeout, and delivery.
- Personal care services where face coverings must be removed for the service are prohibited.
- Team sports are limited to training sessions, with no games or scrimmages permitted.
- Closing the following businesses:
- Indoor gyms and fitness centres;
- Casinos, bingo halls, and other gaming establishments;
- Indoor cinemas;
- Performing arts centres and venues;
- Spectator areas in racing venues;
- Interactive exhibits or exhibits with high risk of personal contact in museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, etc.
- Reduced capacity limits for:
- Tour and guide services (10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors);
- Real estate open houses (10 people indoors, with physical distancing);
- In-person teaching and instruction, such as cooking classes (10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, with exemptions for schools, post-secondary institutions, and career colleges);
- Meeting and event spaces (10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors).
Schools, child care centres, places of worship, and retail businesses (including those in malls) may remain open.
Premier Ford added that protecting the province’s schools and long-term care facilities is currently the government’s top priority.
Public Health Advice for all Ontarians
In addition to the announcement of new restrictions in Toronto, Ottawa, and Peel, Dr. Williams is urging all Ontarians to limit trips outside of the home, except for essential purposes such as work, grocery shopping, medical appointments, and outdoor physical activity. Travel to other regions of the province, especially from areas with higher transmission to surrounding areas with lower transmission, should only be for essential purposes.
Ontarians are also encouraged to practice physical distancing of at least two metres with anyone from outside of one’s household, wear face coverings when physical distancing is a challenge, and to practice frequent hand washing.
Support for Small Businesses
In anticipation of the impact of today’s announcement on the province’s small businesses, the government plans to make $300 million available to assist affected businesses with fixed costs, including property taxes, hydro and natural gas bills. According to Premier Ford, this funding will be made available as soon as possible for businesses in affected regions.
Trends in COVID-19 Cases
Case Numbers, Testing, and Hospitalizations
During a media briefing regarding the recent spike in Ontario cases, Dr. Williams, Steini Brown, and Dr. Huyer emphasized that trends in COVID-19 case growth in the province are beginning to parallel the worst-case scenarios outlined in last week’s modelling update. Cases are growing faster than initially stated last week, and the province is observing a dramatic growth in the number of tests that are positive.
Over the last three weeks, there has been an increase of approximately 250 per cent in the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations. With today’s updated data, the number of COVID-19 patients requiring treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU) will surpass the threshold of 150, whereby there will be implications on the health system’s ability to continue to offer surgeries and other non-COVID-related procedures.
Health officials also noted that the severity of the trends observed in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic are not universal across the province. Three or four public health units are deemed “high risk,” while many other regions fall into a medium- or low-risk category. As a result, health officials advised the government to re-implement regional public health restrictions, rather than sweeping measures across the province.
Questions from Media
Greater Toronto Area “Medium-Risk” Regions
In response to questions about public health regions in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) bordering on Toronto and Peel, such as Halton and York, health officials confirmed that they have been in contact with all GTA medical officers of health and will continue to monitor trends in these regions. For now, medical officers of health in these regions have been given a mandate to be more aggressive with public messaging, and have received notice that similar modified stage two restrictions may be implemented in their regions if conditions worsen.
Dr. Williams added that while there are currently no travel restrictions in the province, travel to and from areas of high community transmission is discouraged.
Sudden Increase in Cases
When asked about the suddenness of Ontario’s increase in new cases of COVID-19, health officials explained that the province’s significant testing backlog contributed to artificially low numbers over the past five to seven days.