Toronto’s top doctor says there’s no set amount of COVID-19 cases that will prompt the city to stop loosening or reimplement restrictions, if a rise in cases occurs.
“I don't think that there is a singular number and it never boils down to one particular number,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said to CP24. “We have to look at the situation and context. Certainly we're going to want to make sure that community activity, the level of COVID-19 activity in our community, is as low as possible.”
De Villa joined CP24 to discuss the latest on the pandemic Wednesday evening.
She said there’s no specific number of cases the city has to hit to determine if the city should stop easing COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, she said it’s a balancing act of maintaining functional social, health-care and public health systems amid the pandemic.
“The idea is, how do we actually try to balance our risks?” said De Villa. “How do we make sure that we're in a position, that we're best positioned, one as a public health system to effectively conduct case management and contact tracing.”
De Villa stated that so far Toronto is doing really well in combating the virus in its 21st week of the pandemic.
Toronto entered Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan on July 31.
This means that indoor dining and indoor fitness activities can resume after being forced to close down in mid-March.
On Wednesday, the province reported 18 new cases of the virus in Toronto.
De Villa also answered questions related to COVID-19 from viewers.
CP24: Now that masks have been made mandatory for apartment buildings, who is responsible for enforcement?
De Villa: I think part of this is adjusting to a new role. So, I think we have to allow a little bit of time for people to understand that yes the new rules are in place and this is around wearing of masks or having policies within apartments and condos so that mask use is required within common spaces in apartments and in condos. So what can you do if you notice that somebody's not following the rules. Well first of all, I think one option is that if we're talking about people that you live with, your neighbors, raising it with them and reminding them that there is a rule, and that this is a new one I think is a reasonable step. And of course getting in touch with us at the City of Toronto if there are challenges around enforcement.
CP24: As a retired kindergarten teacher I would like to hear your opinion on kindergarten classrooms opening during this pandemic. Characteristics of this age group are runny noses without blowing, crying easily and difficulty remembering good health protocols (eg. sneezing into your elbow). Many also need physical help with everyday activities.
De Villa: We know that we should expect cases to occur in school. The more we see people interact with each other, the more mixing we have, whether we're talking about young or older populations, we should expect to see cases. The question is how do we mitigate the risk as much as possible. And a number of the features of the back-to-school plan are aimed at exactly that. And I think there is still some time for us to fine tune some of those features. So trying to ensure that physical distancing is there as much as possible, ensuring that mask use is maximized as much as possible. So even though masks are only required for those who are in grade four and higher, there is no reason why younger children who are able to wear masks shouldn't be encouraged and strongly encouraged to wear masks.
CP24: How can we be told our social group should only be 10 people but it's safe to send our kids to a JK class with 29 other students?
De Villa: So within that bubble we're talking about a group for whom you do not need to maintain physical distance, these are people with whom you can have close contact. We are in Stage 3, and now allowed to have larger groups, larger gatherings. You know, 50 people indoors, 100 people outdoors. But it's important to note that when we're talking about those gatherings we're talking about gatherings with physical distancing, and where physical distancing is not possible, the use of a mask. So I appreciate that there are some concerns. I think there's still some details that are being worked out amongst school boards across the province.
CP24: The rule of thumb is to sneeze or cough into your arm but what does one do if you have to sneeze or cough with a mask on? And when it comes to kids should you send extra masks to children when they're going back to school?
De Villa: Well, on the issue of extra masks I always think it's a good idea for kids to have extra masks and that includes the big kids because sometimes we misplace our masks or lose them or they get dirty so I think having extra masks is always a good thing... The whole purpose of the mask is to actually keep those droplets that come out from your nose and mouth when you talk or you cough or your sneeze to yourself, rather than spreading them through to other people. So, in effect, yes the mask is kind of like your elbow substitute, if you will.
CP24: I've had a sore throat for the past few days with no fever or any other symptom of COVID-19. Should I get tested? Also should people get tested with very few symptoms or more than one symptom?
De Villa: We know that the symptoms of COVID-19 can run from the fever, sore throat, cough, to abdominal pain and diarrhea, to the loss of the sense of smell or taste. And if you have any of these symptoms of COVID-19 it's quite reasonable to go and get some testing for COVID-19, particularly if you know of exposures to somebody who might have had a COVID-19 infection. So, I think that's a reasonable premise under which to go get COVID-19 testing if you have symptoms that are associated with COVID-19.
CP24: Do you see any travel restrictions being lifted by November for some islands in the Caribbean where cases are under control?
De Villa: To talk about what might happen in November I think is just a prediction that none of us can make. We've seen what has happened in other jurisdictions that had relatively little or even no activity for quite some time. And then their activity starts to pick up, they start to get COVID-19 cases. So whether that impacts us, or it impacts the destination, you know the places in the Caribbean or places where we may wish to travel, we don't know. So unfortunately, some of these decisions have to be made relatively close to the time of travel itself because the circumstances can change rather quickly.
This interview has been edited.