Is Toronto heading into a lockdown? Toronto's top doctor answers COVID-related questions
Published Thursday, November 12, 2020 6:46PM EST
Don’t become a case.
That’s the message from Toronto’s top public health official as the city reported 472 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.
During the city’s COVID-19 briefing, Dr. Eileen de Villa said people should assume there are more cases in the community than what it is being reported.
“As I said on Tuesday, and I will say again today: you should assume COVID-19 is everywhere and that without proper protections, you are at risk of infection,” de Villa said.
“The best way to do that is to follow the steps of self-protection, especially now.”
The doctor urged Torontonians to avoid any social settings and don’t interact with people they don’t live with in order to deprive the virus of the “opportunity to spread.”
“It won’t be forever, but it should be for the foreseeable future. Infections are very high in Toronto and we need to get them down,” de Villa said.
“If you think it’s hard in Toronto right now, imagine what it would be like if Toronto was one of the places in the world where it got so bad that we have to go into a hard lockdown.”
De Villa joined CP24 on Thursday to answer coronavirus-related questions.
CP24: Provincial health officials released new COVID-19 modelling this afternoon. They are projecting that we could see up to 6,500 cases per day by mid-December if cases grow at five per cent going forward. What is your reaction to the modelling?
De Villa: I'm extremely concerned about that. And it certainly lines up with the messaging that I was putting out today as I delivered my remarks to the people of Toronto. And it highlights the urgency of the message that we really do need to limit our social interactions as much as possible. We know how this disease spreads. We know from science what can stop it. We've done it before. We need to do it again. And we need to do this all together and take this really seriously.
CP24: New restrictions will be in effect in Toronto this weekend. Do you think they are enough to stop this trend that we're seeing right now?
De Villa: I think there's an important role that we play as the local public health department. In my role as the local medical officer of health, I try to create the circumstances that allow for people to be as successful as possible in terms of maximizing health. But when it comes to COVID-19, to this kind of disease, I cannot emphasize enough how it really does come down to each and every one of us to the extent that we can. Limit as much as possible, your close contact to those with whom you live; stick to your household as much as possible. Only go out for the most essential things -- work, your essentials for school, getting groceries, managing your healthcare needs, and some exercise and physical activity. Try to do that either alone or in concert with your household members. Avoid contact with others as much as possible. And if we all do this together, I really think that that is the path to success.
CP24: Officials have been pointing to mental health as justification for some of the restrictions we are seeing. But, where do physical health and health of businesses factor in and is justifying it by mental health enough?
De Villa: I think we need to consider all aspects of health. And that's something that we're trying to do and that we've been conscious of throughout the entire pandemic. You've heard me say this before, and you'll hear me say it again. We had multiple objectives that we were trying to achieve as part of our COVID-19 response—limiting the negative impact of COVID-19 on health, saving lives as much as possible, protecting health care, and mitigating the negative impacts of COVID-19 and the restrictions on broader health, social and economic aspects of our lives. It is the total of all these things that we're trying to consider. Mental health is important. And as much as we crave and want in-person interaction, we're not completely eliminating it. We're saying stick to your household. And if you live alone, or you have one or two essential supports, those are okay. I think that's the notion of trying to maintain some in-person interaction but otherwise support each other as much as possible through virtual remote or online means. When it comes to business, we've seen the experience from other jurisdictions. The better we can control COVID-19 faster, earlier, quicker, the sooner we can get back to more regular activities, more regular life, which is frankly better for business in the long run.
CP24: Toronto Public Health unveiled a new automated phone system that warns people that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. While we can certainly appreciate the effort there, there was some concern about the fact that the voice sounds very similar to some of the fraudulent calls people are getting. Are you worried or other people may just hang up on these calls when they hear them?
De Villa: That is always a possibility. What we are trying to tell people as well is one that these calls may happen. Hence, we're telling people publicly that this is a real thing, and it's out there. And of course, we always give people information around. Look, if you have any questions whatsoever, call us at Toronto Public Health. We have the public health hotline 416-338-7600 if you have any questions about whether a call indicates that it's from Toronto Public Health. If you're worried that it might be fraudulent, call us we'll let you know. And help you figure your way through.
CP24: A viewer asks, the new numbers for Toronto are very concerning. Ever since September and October, once the schools open, cases started building up. Maybe it's the school kids. They are asymptomatic, who are passing it to their loved ones and people they know. Even if people restrict themselves to their households, their kids would be meeting so many others. Wouldn't it be a better idea to close all the schools and then see if there is a reduction in numbers instead of closing down all the businesses who are indeed suffering?
De Villa: You have a viewer who has given this a lot of thought and is paying attention to the numbers. I think that's something that we should laud and acknowledge and say, "That's great. I'm glad that people are paying attention." A couple of things, though. One is you've heard me say before school is really, really important to the health of children and it's not just about the academics. There's so much more to good health and the importance of school in our kids' lives. We're trying to preserve school as much as possible because of the many benefits it provides to kids. The other thing is that what we did see was that there was a rise in cases even before school started. And it occurred in the 20 to 29-year-old age group, sort of a younger adult age group, and over time started to spread throughout the community. If there's one thing that we have noticed, it's that the higher community spread is, the more likely you will see cases within our schools. And the final point I would make is that due to all the work that's been done together, us, schools, school communities, school boards, we haven't seen much by way of outbreak thus far within our school communities—lots of infection prevention and control measures put into place. We just haven't seen a lot of transmission amongst kids in the school environment. That's why we've continued on the path that we're on right now but constantly assessing and reassessing.
CP24: Another viewer asks, I'm wondering if you feel that Toronto and Peel will end up in a lockdown in the next few weeks If the numbers keep rising.
De Villa: We all want to do the best we can to reduce COVID-19 spread in our communities, whether we're talking about Toronto or Peel. But obviously, there are significant concerns around moving to something like a lockdown. And we know that other jurisdictions all around the world have had to go that way. Much of Western Europe is in that situation. We are doing what we can to try to avoid that wherever possible. And that's why the urgency of the message that I put out there today, and I know that my colleagues in Peel would join me in that same message. Please, really limit your social interactions to the extent that we all can really stay at home and reduce our social contact. That's the best protection we have for ourselves and our community so that we can try to avoid more significant restrictions.
CP24: Why doesn't the city impose a compulsory mask-wearing policy, not just inside, but outside too?
De Villa: If you think about it, if people actually stay home as much as possible, then you don't really need to worry quite so much about the mask. To the extent that people are limiting their social interactions to the greatest extent possible, then the need to introduce more restrictions and more places where masks are required is eliminated.
CP24: A viewer asks, my children play soccer and continue to train in groups of 25 outdoors and 10 indoors without being told to wear masks. Is this an activity my children should stop?
De Villa: I think each family needs to make their own decision premised on their own risk tolerance. I know that these activities are currently allowed, and there are provisions, and there's certainly guidance given on how to reduce the risk in those settings. We know that outdoors, the risk is definitely lower, particularly if you maintain your distance. Adding on masks does add an extra layer of protection. I think that fundamentally we are asking people to think about their activities, think about their families' activities, their children's activities, and make decisions based on their own risk tolerance, recognizing that the safest thing for people to do is to limit their activities outside of their home to the greatest extent possible to that which is essential.
CP24: Why are city employees or health care professionals not being screened prior to entering the facility?
De Villa: It may not be a physical screening station. That doesn't mean it's not happening. I can tell you that, for example, in the City of Toronto, there is an online screening tool. And the expectation is that we use that before coming into work. That being said, for people who can work from home, that's the best option. But clearly, some people can't just, given the nature of their work. And in those cases, screening in before going into work is good, and it is a good precaution to take to protect yourself and protect others around you.
CP24: As people start preparing for the Christmas holiday season, would it be okay to consider having small-distanced gatherings with family indoors if everyone promises to maintain six feet of distance and keeps their masks on at all times, i.e. to exchange a greeting or gifts, but no meal, etc.? Several of my family members are suggesting this, but I suspect this is definitely not advisable. Can you please explain why or why not so that everyone understands?
De Villa: I think you're not going to be surprised to hear what my message is on this for now. Look, given our current circumstances given the urgency of our situation, and you've just heard the modelling projections for the foreseeable future, as put forward by some scientific colleagues from the University of Toronto, we're in an urgent situation. For now, what we're really asking people to focus on is limiting social interactions to the greatest extent possible. Only go outside of your home for the most essential of activities -- work, school, going to the groceries, buying the things that you need to run your household health care, Let's keep doing that. Let's keep doing that for the next several weeks. And then we can start to make decisions around what the holiday season might look like. But for now, the focus should really be on limiting social interaction as much as possible.
This interview has been edited.