Toronto's top public health official wants indoor dining banned and residents to remain home other than for 'essential trips'
Published Friday, October 2, 2020 1:24PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, October 2, 2020 4:55PM EDT
Toronto’s top public health official is asking the province to bring back some of the lockdown measures that were in place this past spring, such as a ban on indoor dining, while at the same time urging residents to do their part by only leaving their homes for “essential trips.”
Dr. Eileen de Villa wrote an open letter to Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams on Friday requesting a series of new restrictions that would be in place for the next 28 days and would essentially return Toronto to something more closely resembling the lockdown that was in place in the spring.
The recommendations made by de Villa in the letter include the suspension of indoor dining at bars and restaurants as well as the cancellation of all group fitness classes and sports activities that take place indoors.
She is also recommending that “people only leave their homes for essential activities, such as work, education, exercise and fitness, healthcare appointments and the purchase of food.”
“Without quick action to implement further public health measures there is an acute risk that the virus will continue to spread widely, stressing the healthcare system and further straining Toronto’s economy,” de Villa said during a briefing at Toronto City Hall on Friday afternoon. “These numbers won’t reverse on their own. They won’t reverse themselves. It will only increase without action. This is the threat we face and this is why I am asking the province for support to do more.”
Toronto’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases stood at 40 at the beginning of September but has risen rapidly since then and is now 236, a near six-fold increase.
Alarmingly, the city has also seen the virus slowly permeate long-term care homes once again with the number of active outbreaks in those settings rising from two to nine over the last three weeks.
Speaking with reporters, de Villa conceded that the measures she is proposing are significant but she said that they are intended to help the city “prevent the conditions that would force a large scale lockdown” like the one we saw in the spring.
The problem, she said, is that she doesn’t have the legal authority to unilaterally impose the sort of sweeping restrictions she is proposing. That is why she is asking the province to either do so itself or amend her legislative authority so that she can act.
“We looked at every possible avenue, we looked at every imaginable way so we can take these measures and take the steps,” she said. “If I had the power to do this I would have done it.
City has traced an increasing number of outbreaks back to bars and restaurants
In her letter to Williams, de Villa details several troubling aspects of the resurgence of the virus in Toronto, including 18 outbreaks that were traced back to bars, restaurants and entertainment venues over a one-week period in late September.
She said that the city’s reproductive number has also crept up to between 1.2 and 1.4, pointing to increased community spread.
Speaking with reporters earlier on Friday afternoon, Williams acknowledged receiving de Villa’s letter but was non-committal regarding the request.
“She felt she has the data to back that up with the restaurants and bars and she has seen some (infections) with group activities in event centres, such as gymnasiums as well as in some sports groups, which we haven’t seen yet in the rest of the province,” he said, noting that he has requested additional data from the city. “One of our challenges is that we don’t see the same thing across the province.”
Tory calls measures ‘strong medicine’
De Villa said that conversations between her office and provincial officials are “ongoing” and that her hope remains that the measures can be implemented “as soon as possible.”
Mayor John Tory also expressed his full support for the new restrictions during Monday’s briefing, echoing de Villa’s warnings that a failure to act could mean that the city will eventually have to enact measures that are “much worse and longer lasting.”
“This is strong medicine and I know that it will be bitter for the businesses directly impacted but now the resurgence is here and our doctor has issued a prescription that we must follow,” he said.