Ontario’s stay-at-home will remain in place until “at least” June 2, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.
Ford said the province should be able to lift restrictions on outdoor recreation by that date, with more details on reopening plans to follow in the days and weeks after that.
“The situation is slowly trending in the right situation. Make no mistake, we’re not out of the woods yet,” Ford said, adding that his goal is for Ontario to have “the most normal July and August as possible.”
Today’s news conference marks the first time Ford has taken questions from reporters in more than a week.
It comes as Ontario reported another 2,759 cases of COVID-19 and 31 more deaths linked to the illness this morning. While it’s the most new infections in four days, it is still well below last Thursday’s count of 3,424. It is most useful to compare the same days of the week because of the cyclical nature of testing in Ontario.
Labs completed 47,638 tests and Public Health Ontario logged a provincewide positivity rate of 5.7 per cent, the lowest in almost six weeks. Test positivity has, on average, been trending downward for several weeks.
Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said that the province’s numbers are now about where they were at the peak of the second wave.
“They’ve come down, but we have a ways to go yet,” he said.
Officials do not provide specific metrics
Provincial officials were asked what specific metrics they want to see by June 2 to begin easing public health measures. Neither Ford, Williams, or Health Minister Christine Elliott directly answered the question.
Williams would only say the province needs to be “well under” 1,000 cases per day for a “number of days.”
Officials also did not answer when asked if the province would return to its previous colour-coded framework.
In a statement, Ontario Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rocco Rossi said the chamber wants to see “evidence-based metrics for reopening,” with thresholds for case counts, health-care system capacity, and evidence of virus spread.
“We fully appreciate the need to be nimble and agile in responding to a crisis that is evolving rapidly; however, this flexibility should not preclude the government from providing Ontarians with a clear understanding about the key metrics and thresholds for a measured, safe, and carefully calibrated reopening plan,” Rossi said in a news release.
The new cases in today’s update include 774 in Toronto, 602 in Peel Region, 258 in York Region, 147 in Durham Region, 133 in Hamilton and 110 in Ottawa.
The seven-day average of daily cases fell to 2,731, its lowest point in about five weeks.
The additional deaths push the official toll to 8,405. The seven-day average of deaths rose slightly to 27.4 per day.
Public health units collectively administered 137,697 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday. Roughly 52 per cent of Ontarians aged 18 and older have now had a first shot.
Ford did not shed any light about what the province plans to do with in-person learning for students. The premier said some doctors are telling him schools should reopen, but teachers unions are saying that cant happen right now. Ford did not say who any of those doctors are.
The premier said he wants to see a consensus reached.
“I just need the labour leaders to sit down with the docs and come up with a solution,’ he said.
Ford still asking for more border restrictions
Meanwhile, last night Ford released another letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requesting enhanced COVID-19 measures at Canada’s borders, including:
- Reducing the number of international flights coming to Canada, particularly Ontario.
- Mandatory COVID-19 tests for domestic travellers.
- Requiring those crossing at a land border to spend three days in a quarantine hotel.
Ford said he has now sent four letters asking for the various measures without a formal response from the federal government. He went on to point out that the B117 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, is now the dominant strain in Ontario, accounting for almost all new infections.
“Existing measures at the border, an area of federal responsibility, failed to keep variants of concern out of Canada. These variants entered our province through our borders and, as a result, have had devastating impacts on our communities,” Ford said.
You can read the full letter at the bottom of this story.
Notably, the provincial government’s own scientific advisors warned back in early February that Ontario faced a potentially explosive third wave due to the prevalence of variants already in the country.
Ford repeatedly took aim at Trudeau during Thursday’s press conference, calling border measures “weak and porous.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking on Toronto-based CP24 this morning, accused Ford of “pointing fingers” to deflect from his own government’s handling of the pandemic.
Trudeau said that the province hasn’t been clear about what kind of international travellers should be affected by enhanced measures.
The province’s stay-at-home order was initially implemented on April 8, as cases of COVID-19 due to the B117 variant were growing exponentially, and was supposed to last 28 days. Shortly after it went into effect, though, it was extended until at least May 20.
Infectious disease experts and many physicians, including the Ontario Medical Association, have already said that the order will need to stay in place past its current expiry to ensure there is not a resurgence in cases and hospitalizations.
Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said this week that the pandemic is now “sort of under control” in the province but easing restrictions too early could impede the progress being made.
Daily case counts, total hospitalizations and admissions to critical care are all on the decline, but still far from levels that would allow for any significant reopening, especially in harder-hit regions of southern Ontario.
Ideally daily cases would be around 800, Jüni said, so that the testing and contact tracing system “can begin to work again.”
Moreover, as of yesterday, there were still 776 people with COVID-related illnesses being treated in ICUs and a full 73 per cent of those required a ventilator to breathe. Williams has said he’d like to see overall ICU admissions to drop below 150 before public health measures are eased.
That said, the science advisory table has called on the government to consider amending limits on outdoor activities.
“We need a clear distinction between indoor and outdoor space,” Jüni told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning in an interview yesterday.
- Prioritize reopening outdoor spaces and amenities — that could go as far as opening patios, so long as stringent rules are in place and they are truly outdoors.
- But, keep the stay-at-home order to limit people moving throughout the province.
- Maintain a ban on mass gatherings.
- The first indoor facilities that should reopen? Schools, according to Dr. Vinita Dubey, the associate medical officer of health for Toronto Public Health. For now, however, the province and local health officials won’t say if students will be able to return to in-person learning before the summer break