The Ontario government has announced a provincial stay-at-home order and new restrictions, as new COVID-19 modelling revealed Tuesday shows the health-care system is on the verge of being overwhelmed.
The province says it is issuing the stay-at-home order effective Thursday at 12:01 a.m., which will require everyone to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes, like going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for essential work.
“Our province is in crisis,” Premier Doug Ford said.
“The system is on the brink of collapse. It’s on the brink of being overwhelmed.”
The province says it is enacting the following measures, which will come into effect between today and Thursday:
- Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people with limited exceptions.
- People are required to wear a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open. Wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended outdoors when you can’t physically distance more than two metres.
- All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m.
- The restricted hours of operation do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery.
- Non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction, exempting survey.
“Community transmission is widespread. It’s in our hospitals, it’s in our long-term care homes, and it’s in our workplaces,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said Tuesday.
The province also announced Tuesday that schools in these public health units will not return to in-person instruction until Feb. 10:
- Peel Region
“Schools in hotspots may not resume,” Elliott said.
New modelling reveals Ontario is at a ‘dangerous point’
Ford was asked Tuesday if government inaction has anything to do with the current state of the pandemic in Ontario, to which the premier responded the province is doing everything in its power to slow the spread of the virus.
“We work as a team. And any mishaps, I’m wearing it,” Ford said.
New modelling released Tuesday shows if Ontarians don’t significantly reduce their contact with others during the pandemic, the province’s health system will become overwhelmed and deaths will exceed first-wave totals before a vaccine has time to take effect.
“We’re at a dangerous point,” said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, at a morning briefing.
There are now cases of COVID-19 in every region of Ontario, Brown said, and the province’s hospitals are facing a potentially deadly influx of patients.
“The growth of the pandemic is particularly acute right now,” he added, noting that increases in new daily cases is above seven per cent “on our worst days,” well into worst-case scenario territory for the outlook of the illness in the province.
The revised modelling suggests that despite restrictions put in place last month, mobility and contacts between people have not decreased in Ontario. Survey data shows a majority of people are trying to limit the spread of the virus by following health advice, but case numbers will not go down until more people follow that example, Brown said.
And despite repeated assertions from provincial officials and the premier alike that Ontario was building an “iron ring” around its long-term care homes to protect seniors, the figures released Tuesday also show that almost 40 per cent of the province’s long-term care homes now have active outbreaks of COVID-19.
Elliott claimed Tuesday that the province is “building that iron ring around the long-term care homes by the vaccinations that we’re doing” — but Ontario officials have promised an “iron ring” around those homes long before vaccines were ever approved by Health Canada.
The province’s forecasts now suggest there will actually be more deaths in long-term care in the pandemic’s second wave compared to the first. Since Jan. 1, 2021, 198 long-term care residents and two staffers have died.
Modellers also warned that patients with COVID-19 now occupy more than 400 ICU beds in Ontario, causing surgeries and other procedures to be delayed or cancelled, which will lead to “real consequences for health.”
Brown said that currently, about one quarter of Ontario’s hospitals have no ICU capacity left, while another quarter have only one or two beds available at any given time. The hospitals with no or very limited ICU capacity are spread out throughout the province, he added.
“This is no longer an issue of one or two regions,” Brown continued.’
Choices about who gets care on horizon
Projections now show there could be about 500 COVID-19 patients in intensive care by mid-January and potentially more than 1,000 by February under more severe scenarios.
Moreover, total admissions of patients with COVID-19 to hospitals have climbed 72.2 per cent in the last four weeks.
If current hospitalization trends continue unabated, health-care providers will be forced to make choices that “no doctor ever wants to make,” Brown said.
“There will be choices about who will get the care they need and who will not.”
Public health experts are also warning that a new, more easily transmissible variant of the virus first identified in the U.K. could begin spreading rapidly in the province, considerably extending the period of time it will take for case counts to drop significantly.
Eight more people infected with the U.K. variant of the coronavirus in Ontario were identified yesterday. A total of 14 instances of the variant have been identified, but “it’s very likely that we have more that we’re not aware of,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, at the briefing.
Three of the cases reported today currently have no known links to travel, suggesting community spread could already be happening. In a worst-case scenario in which the variant is spreading uncontrolled, models show Ontario could see up to 20,000 new cases each day by mid-February.
Yaffe said that survey results and current trends indicate the “lockdown” measures implemented late last year were “not enough.”
Asked if Ontario’s immunization campaign could meaningfully slow transmission of the novel coronavirus, Yaffe said that it will take “many months” to reach herd immunity, which requires about 60 to 70 per cent of the population to be vaccinated.
Both Brown and Yaffe said today that any plan to effectually slow the spread of COVID-19 in the province will require social supports for essential workers who need to take time off work, so that “nobody has to choose between getting a test and putting food on the table.”
Ford has thus far rejected calls for up to 10 paid sick days for workers in Ontario. When asked about the issue Tuesday, he deferred to federal assistance programs.
2,903 new cases reported today
All this comes as the province reported another 2,903 cases of COVID-19 and 41 more deaths of people with the illness today.
The new cases include 837 in Toronto, 545 in Peel Region, 249 in York Region, 246 in Niagara Region, 166 in Waterloo Region and 158 in Windsor-Essex.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in cases were:
- Hamilton: 86
- Durham Region: 75
- Middlesex-London: 74
- Ottawa: 68
- Lambton: 63
- Simcoe Muskoka: 58
- Southwestern: 51
- Halton Region: 47
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 41
- Chatham Kent: 26
- Huron-Perth: 23
- Eastern Ontario: 18
- Haldimand-Norfolk: 11
- Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge: 10
- Thunder Bay: 10
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)
The seven-day average of new daily cases fell slightly to 3,523.
There are now 30,141 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 provincewide.
Ontario’s network of labs processed 44,802 test samples for the virus and reported a test positivity rate of 7.8 per cent.
The province says another 11,448 doses of vaccines were administered yesterday. A total of 133,553 shots have now been given out in Ontario.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital increased by 138, up to 1,701 — a new pandemic high. Of those, 385 are being treated in intensive care and 262 require the use of a ventilator to breathe.
Ontario’s COVID-19 death toll is now 5,053.