Ontario must see a “consistent two-to-four week decrease in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases” before the government can start to loosen restrictions and begin reopening the economy, says a new framework released by the province.
The province will reopen its economy through a three-stage process in the coming weeks and months, a government document unveiled Monday afternoon says, though it offers no firm date and few details about when that effort will begin.
“The framework is about how we’re reopening not when we’re reopening,” said Premier Doug Ford at a news conference, adding that while Ontario is believed to be at its peak in terms of the outbreak, how long that peak lasts remains a question.
“If precautions are not taken one person infected with this virus can spread it to hundreds of others.”
“Progress doesn’t mean we can quit now and that’s why I won’t set hard dates until we’re ready, because the virus travels at its own speed.”
Health and safety “will continue to be a top priority as Ontario transitions to a ‘new normal’,” the document says. A Framework for Reopening our Province emphasizes that public health officials will have input during each phase of the process.
According to the province, the stages are as follows:
- Stage 1: Open select workplaces and allow some small gatherings.
- Stage 2: Open more workplaces and outdoor spaces, and allow some larger gatherings.
- Stage 3: Further relax restrictions on public gatherings and open all work places “responsibly.”
Each stage will last at least two to four weeks, at which point Ontario chief medical officer of health will be able to tighten certain restrictions, extend the stage or advise that the province can move into the next phase.
While there are no specific dates included in the planning document, when and how Ontario begins reopening will depend on a number of factors, including:
- A consistent two-to-four week drop in new daily COVID-19 cases.
- A decrease in cases not traced to a source.
- A decrease in new hospitalizations.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer health, said last week that the province would need to see fewer than 200 new cases daily for an extended stretch before relaxing COVID-19 emergency measures would be feasible.
With the province still falling somewhat short of its goal of processing 13,000 tests per day, whether the number of new cases being reported daily reflects the true number of new infections remains a question.
Premier Doug Ford unveiled the roadmap at a news conference this afternoon. He was joined by Minister of Health Christine Elliott, Minister of Finance Rod Phillips and Vic Fedeli, minister of economic development, job creation and trade.
A state of emergency was first declared in Ontario on March 17, an order that has been extended several times in the weeks since. It is currently expected to remain in place until at least mid-May, and last week Ford played down the possibility that people could expect to see a return to normalcy by the Victoria Day long weekend.
Businesses deemed non-essential by the government remain closed, as do other services like child-care centres, libraries, recreation facilities and places of worship.
The province has also introduced a $17-billion relief package that includes an influx of cash for the health sector, direct payments to parents, and tax breaks for affected businesses.
Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick have already announced tentative timelines for reopening their economies.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units and on respirators in Ontario both fell slightly on Monday, as the cumulative tally of cases since the outbreak began pushes to 15,000.
Ontario’s Ministry of Health reported 424 newly confirmed cases in its latest update, bringing the total number in the province to 14,856 and marking several consecutive days of falling growth rates in new cases. More than 57 per cent of the total cases are now resolved.
The official death toll from COVID-19 in Ontario currently sits at 892, though figures compiled from regional public health units put the real toll at 972, an increase of 24 in the last 24 hours.
Some 671 of those deaths were residents at long-term care facilities, including 57 new deaths reported today. The province is currently tracking outbreaks at 150 of Ontario’s 626 long-term care homes. More than 2,500 residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus provincewide, as well as 1,187 staff members.
While those hospitalized with the novel coronavirus increased to 945 from 938, the number of patients being treated in ICUs fell from 252 to 241. Patients on ventilators dropped from 195 to 191.
Schools to stay closed
Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s minister of education, announced over the weekend that publicly-funded schools will stay closed until at least May 29.
The framework to re-opening the province comes one-week after public health officials said that models suggest community spread of the novel coronavirus in Ontario “appears to have peaked” and that the daily count of new cases is expected to decline in coming weeks.
They added, however, that the situation in the province’s long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, such as shelters and jails, continues to get worse.
Ford has called in operational support from the Canadian Armed Forces for five long-term care homes in Ontario — Orchard Villa in Pickering, Altamont Care Community in Toronto, Eatonville Care Centre in Toronto, Hawthorne Place in Toronto and Holland Christian Homes’ Grace Manor in Brampton.
Orchard Villa has seen 48 of its residents die, Eatonville has had 37 deaths, and Altamont has seen 32 residents and one personal support worker die.
Seven other long-term care homes in Ontario have had more than 20 residents die in COVID-19 outbreaks.
Ontario’s patient ombudsman’s office says it is seeking whistleblower complaints from family members and staff at long-term care homes about staffing shortages and inadequate infection control and prevention measures.