February 17, 2021, Toronto Mayor John Tory and Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, announced that the City of Toronto has asked the Ontario government to delay Toronto’s transition back to the COVID-19 Response Framework and remain subject to the current shutdown restrictions and stay-at-home order until at least March 9th.
Dr. de Villa formally made this request in a letter to Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams. The letter was co-signed by Medical Officer of Health for Peel Region, Dr. Lawrence Loh, who is requesting that current measures are also extended in Peel.
Mayor Tory conveyed his support for a continued lockdown in Toronto. He explained that he understands an extended lockdown will hurt many businesses, but the worst mistake would be ignoring the advice of medical experts, only to close down again in a few weeks.
Mayor Tory and Dr. de Villa were joined by Toronto Fire Chief and General Manager of the Office of Emergency Management, Matthew Pegg. Following today’s announcement, attendees responded to questions from media.
Toronto and Peel Request Extension of Shutdown, Stay-at-Home Order
This afternoon, Mayor Tory and Dr. de Villa announced that Toronto has requested that the Province of Ontario keep the City within the Shutdown Zone of the Lockdown Regulation and subject to the stay-at-home order for an additional two weeks, until at least March 9th.
Today’s request was made jointly to Dr. Williams in a letter from Dr. de Villa and Dr. Loh, who is also asking for the extension of current restrictions in Peel Region. The request acknowledges the presence and increasing frequency of new COVID-19 variants of concern and prioritizes the continued safe reopening of schools and further monitoring of public health trends, prior to implementing additional reopening measures.
The letter to Dr. Williams outlines four critical reasons to delay transitions back to the COVID-19 Response Framework in Toronto and Peel:
- The populations of Toronto and Peel remain largely unvaccinated, and vaccine supply remains uncertain.
- Experience from other jurisdictions shows that variants of concern can spread exponentially without significant public health measures in place.
- Mitigating risk in order to ensure the safe reopening of schools.
- Any degree of reopening may lead to a false sense of security among the public, running the risk of increased mobility, increased contacts, and heightened risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Toronto Public Health Trends
In addition to today’s announcement, Dr. de Villa provided an update on COVID-19 public health trends in the city. Highlights include:
- There are 56 confirmed variant of concern cases in Toronto, including 54 cases of the B.1.1.7.variant (first detected in the U.K.) and 2 cases of the P.1 variant (first detected in Brazil). This is up from one week ago, when there were only 33 confirmed cases of variants of concern in Toronto.
- A far greater number of variant cases (283 from Toronto) are currently in the process of being confirmed in labs.
Dr. de Villa called today’s variant count “the tip of an iceberg,” noting that by the time confirmed variant case counts are large enough to be shocking, it will be too late to prevent a third wave.
Questions from Media
In response to a question about why Toronto is not actioning a lockdown itself, instead of simply asking for one, Dr. de Villa indicated that at this point productive conversations are ongoing with provincial counterparts. Mayor Tory added that these conversations have also been ongoing with provincial elected officials regarding Toronto.
Dr. de Villa answered further questions on the extended lockdown request and explained that additional time under the current framework is needed to address concerns arising from new variants that have more significant outcomes and greater transmissibility.
In response to a question about the increased mobility of Toronto residents, Mayor Tory noted that cell phone data indicates that people are becoming more mobile, which is not ideal with the current stay at home order in place.