Public health officials in three COVID-19 hotspots, including Toronto and Peel, are calling on the Ford government to issue a provincewide stay-at-home order similar to the one that was introduced during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic in January.

The medical officers of health for Toronto, Peel and Ottawa sent a joint letter to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams over the weekend asking him to consider putting the order in place amid surging COVID-19 case counts and hospitalization rates that have been driven by the prevalence of the B.1.1.7 variant.

“A stay-at-home order issued by the Province through an Emergency Order is necessary to prevent and mitigate large scale morbidity and mortality and irreparable strain on the health care system,” they say in the letter. “Stricter lockdowns have been shown to be effective in other countries to control transmission while vaccine campaigns progressed to achieve sufficient population coverage to suppress transmission.”

The province’s science table released modelling last week that suggested that the province could reduce daily COVID-19 case counts to between 1,000 and 1,500 by the end of April but only if they were to implement a month-long stay-at-home order.

The province, however, has resisted taking the advice and last week Health Minister Christine Elliott said that the government wouldn’t replicate the stay-at-home order from the second wave because of the “tremendous ill effect” it had on residents and the need for people to enjoy the outdoors as the weather improves.

Instead, the province issued its so-called “emergency brake” to bring all 34 public health units under enhanced restrictions.

In their letter, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, Peel Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh and Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches did welcome the “additional province-wide public health measures” announced last week but they warn that “stronger measures will be required to reverse the surge” in case counts being experienced in their communities.

In addition to the stay-at-home order they also want Williams to reconsider the long list of businesses and services that are deemed essential in Ontario and to implement staffing limits of no more than 50 per cent for essential businesses and services.

They are also asking that the province consider imposing travel restrictions between regions in Ontario and move schools to “online or hybrid learning where local jurisdictions' school outbreaks are significant and capacity to manage is stretched.”

“While continued expansion of vaccine administration remains a critical component of our long-term pandemic response, public health measures are needed immediately to reverse, as quickly as possible, the concerning trends we are seeing in our health units,” they say.

Intensive care units swell with COVID-19 patients

The request from de Villa, Loh and Etches comes with Ontario’s rolling seven-day average of new cases sitting at 2,758, up from 2,094 just one week ago.

The number of people in intensive care units with COVID-19 also continues to reach new highs and is now at 494.

In a statement provided to CTV News Toronto on Monday, a spokesperson for Minister of Health Christine Elliott conceded that Ontario is very much in the midst of a third wave of the pandemic and said that “immediate action is required to help turn the tide.”

But the spokesperson said that the province already took action by invoking its emergency brake and needs to wait to see what impact, if any, that has on infection rates.

“It’s critical to point out that after applying public health measures it takes time for the intended effects of the measures to be realized due to the incubation period of the virus,” the spokesperson said. “Our government will continue act on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health who will review the science, data and trends along with collaborating with local medical officers of health and our team of expert health officials on if and when public health measure can be loosened or strengthened."

De Villa calls case counts ‘horrific’

The rapid rise in cases in Ontario over the last few weeks came as the Ford government loosened some restrictions, only to re-impose them with the invoking of the emergency brake.

De Villa was asked about the situation while touring a new mass vaccination clinic at the Hangar in North York on Monday morning and said that there “is no question the case counts are horrific.”

De Villa also said there are “measures that promote distance whether taken at a policy level or taken by us as individuals that will help reduce transmission” but stopped short of providing specifics.

For his part, Mayor John Tory said that he would be open to having “a discussion about what more might need to be done in order to wrestle this to the ground.”

“The fact is people around the world are searching for the right thing to do and looking at additional things we can do in workplaces, in the community, I think has proven more often than not to be as successful as anything else in addition to keeping distance and wearing masks,” he said.