'Alarming' rise in COVID-19 cases in Ontario prompts premier to restrict private gatherings provincewide
Published Saturday, September 19, 2020 8:01AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, September 19, 2020 1:47PM EDT
In an effort to "crack down on illegal parties," Premier Doug Ford announced Saturday that private gatherings in all regions of the province will now be restricted to 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors as new COVID-19 infections in Ontario rise at an "alarming" rate.
The new rules, which do not apply to businesses such as restaurants, movie theatres, and banquet halls, are in effect immediately and will stay in place for the next 28 days, Ford said.
The province says "staffed businesses and facilities" will still be permitted to host 100 people outdoors and 50 people indoors.
Earlier this week, the provincial government put gathering restrictions in place for Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa, three communities in Ontario seeing a rapid spike in COVID-19 cases.
Ontario's Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said the decision to implement the restrictions provincewide was a "precautionary" one.
"We are trying to avert a further increase as much as possible," she said Saturday.
Ontario reported 407 new cases of the virus today, the second day in a row where cases surpassed 400.
"Over the past several days, we've seen alarming growth in the number of COVID cases in Ontario. Three weeks ago, we were around 80 cases, a week ago we were around 200 cases, now we are over 400 cases and climbing. Folks, the alarm bells are ringing," Ford said at a rare weekend news conference at Queen's Park on Saturday.
"Too much of it has been tied to people who aren't following the rules. People who think it is OK to hold parties, to carry on as if things are back to normal. They aren't."
Ford said those caught organizing "illegal social gatherings" will face a $10,000 fine and anyone who attends will be handed a $750 ticket.
"We have to crack down on the illegal parties," he said. "How we face the next surge, how we hold off the next wave, is critical."
'It is a wave''
When asked if Ontario has in fact entered the second wave of the pandemic, Yaffe said the province is in "a wave."
She noted that the health experts have identified three possible models for case growth in the province.
"One of them is a big second wave, which would be a sustained increase of three to four times the size of wave one. Another one is to have smaller waves but multiple waves, and another one is what they call a slow burn with no particular waves," she said at Saturday's news conference.
"At this point in Ontario our numbers are rapidly going up. It is a wave. Are we seeing the big second wave or are we seeing a smaller wave? ...That is why it is hard to really say. I think when people think of a second wave, they assume we are talking about the big wave and we're hoping we're not."
While Yaffe could not say exactly what percentage of new cases have been linked to what the province is describing as "unmonitored, private social gatherings," she said it is "an increasing trend."
"That is why we are trying to address it proactively," she said.
She added that it appears many people in the province are still unclear about what the rules are when it comes to socializing.
Yaffe reiterated that masks and distancing must be adhered to with anyone who is not in your social bubble, which can include no more than 10 people.
"If you are with your social circle, you can be close with them... anyone else you have to keep your distance, two metres or wear a mask," she said. "All the measures still need to be in place."
Province must do more to stop spread: NDP
Members of the opposition released a statement Saturday, saying the Ford government's new restrictions don't "go far enough" to address the situation in Ontario.
"Today Ford is correcting an announcement he made just a couple days ago. It’s still inconsistent, and doesn’t go far enough. In addition to a provincewide rollback in social gathering limits we need to see a provincewide rollback on class sizes," NDP Deputy Leader Sara Singh said in a news release.
"How could Doug Ford believe it’s not safe to have more than 10 people in a gathering, but that it’s safe to have 30 kids in a classroom and 70 kids on a school bus?"
The NDP has repeatedly called for class sizes to be reduced in the province to slow the spread of the virus.
"To stop this second wave from getting worse, we need a 15-student cap on class sizes. We need a massive ramp up of testing through public health units, which have said they need more funding and more staff," the statement continued.
Long line-ups and wait times were reported at several assessment centres around Ontario over the past week and the province has vowed to ramp up testing to meet the demand.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario set a testing record today after processing nearly 39,000 tests over the past 24 hours.
The province has said it plans to start processing 50,000 tests per day within the next month or so.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Elliott said the province is also working to expand lab capacity to prevent testing backlogs.
"We have ramped up the tests significantly... That has the potential to slow down unless we keep the lab capacity moving forward as well," she said.
"We are looking at other ways to augment our lab capacity by working with other universities and hospitals, with some of the community labs that have already taken on a lot of the testing capacity."
She added that the government understands the importance of getting results back in a timely fashion.
"We don't want people to have to wait an inordinate length of time to receive the results because for some people it is about returning to school or returning to work," she said. "So we are actively working on that now."