City of Toronto requests extension of Shutdown Zone and Stay-at-Home Order

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: www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-latest-city-of-toronto-news/covid-19-status-of-cases-in-toronto/.

Dr. de Villa has asked the Province of Ontario to keep Toronto in the Shutdown Zone of the Lockdown Regulation and subject to the Stay-at-Home Order for an additional two weeks, until March 9th at the earliest. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
The full letter is available online: https://www.toronto.ca/news/medical-officer-of-health-letter-return-to-the-provincial-framework-for-peel-and-toronto-on-february-22-2021/.

As the City waits for a response from the Province, it remains imperative all people stay home as much as possible and comply with provincial the Lockdown Regulation-Shutdown Zone that remains in place, City bylaws and public health guidance. Please review the City’s simple “Dos” and “Don’ts” guide for recommended and mandatory public health measures. The guide communicates some of what is and what is not, permitted under the provincial Lockdown Regulation-Shutdown Zone that remains in effect to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The guide can be found at www.toronto.ca/lockdownguide.

Quotes:

“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. 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.”

- Mayor John Tory

“As a public health physician I've never been as concerned about the threat of COVID-19 to the health of people in our city as I am right now. I would love to be able to tell you we are at a point where restrictions can substantially lift. I look forward to that day. Today it's better to delay reopening and stage re-opening gradually when we have certainty the time is right. For now, we must all continue doing everything we can to help protect our community so we can get back to brighter days sooner.”

- Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health

“We know that the COVID-19 variants of concern are circulating in Toronto and Peel. They have been confirmed in workplaces and congregate settings. And we've seen around the world what happens when public health measures are relaxed too soon, and the variants take hold. Right now, we need to do everything we can to limit the spread of the variants and keep people safe. I know that this isn't easy to hear. We all desperately want this period to be over. But until the new variants are under control, and more vulnerable people are vaccinated, we have to proceed with caution. Right now, it's the only way.”

- Councillor Joe Cressy (Spadina-Fort York), Chair of the Board of Health

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