Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health recommends the Province take immediate action to stop the further spread of COVID-19

October 2, 2020–Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, today wrote to the Province of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, with strong recommendations to significantly reduce the further spread of COVID-19 in Toronto.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Toronto continues to increase, with the city at risk of experiencing exponential growth of COVID-19 infections. The seven-day moving average of COVID-19 cases, starting on September 1, was 40. On September 17, it was 84, and on September 29, it was 236 – an almost six-fold increase.

Other jurisdictions who have experienced a resurgence have taken action that has stopped the virus, while jurisdictions that have failed to act early, have faced months of rising cases.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health, City of Toronto (file photo)

More than 1 million people have now died around the world. In Toronto, we’ve lost more than 1,180 people – parents, grandparents, daughters and sons, husbands and wives, friends and colleagues, neighbours.

Dr. de Villa outlined all of these concerns of immediate health risks to the public if quick and decisive action is not taken. The following public health measure recommendations, then, were made to the Province today:

  1. Restaurants and Bars: Prohibiting indoor dining. The City has explored two alternatives to this restriction, such as requiring individuals to only dine in with members of their household, or restricting indoor dining in areas of Toronto where case counts are highest. Dr. de Villa, however, does not believe that such measures will be either enforceable or effective.
  2. General Public: Individuals to only leave their homes for essential trips. Drawing on experience from other jurisdictions, as well as the City’s own successful experience in controlling transmission during the first wave of COVID-19, Dr. de Villa recommends that people only leave their homes for essential activities, such as work, education, exercise and fitness, healthcare appointments and the purchase of food. Up to two individuals from outside a household would be permitted to provide social support if an individual lives alone.
  3. Recreation, Sports and Gyms: All indoor group classes in gyms and indoor sports team activities to be discontinued.
  4. Managing Public Health Measures in Large Venues: Require a plan be submitted to Toronto Public Health demonstrating how these venues will comply with public health measures, such as seating that ensures physical distancing and a method to collect individual contact information. Dr. de Villa has concerns about exposures and outbreaks in large venues, some of which can have a capacity of more than 100. She also expressed concerns about the current regulations that allow for 30 per cent capacity in these venues.

Currently in Toronto, there are 169 active outbreaks in the community, as well as in congregate settings, such as schools, childcare, workplaces and long-term care homes. In the last three weeks, outbreaks in long-term care homes has increased from two to nine.

Between September 20 and 26, there were 45 active community outbreaks. Of these outbreaks, 44 per cent were in restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. Socializing in bars and restaurants is contributing to significant exposures and outbreaks. Last weekend, Toronto Public Health notified the public of a possible exposure to 1,700 people at the Yonge Street Warehouse, and another 600 exposures at Regulars Bar. Both establishments have cooperated fully with the public health investigation.

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health has limited authority under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA) to act alone with such broad restrictions as recommended here. As such, Dr. de Villa has requested that Dr. Williams, as Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, use his legislative powers under the HPPA and the Provincial Emergency Order to enact these changes or consider making the necessary legislative and/or regulatory changes to provide her with the authority to take these actions as quickly as possible.

Throughout this pandemic, we have followed Dr. de Villa’s advice to keep our residents safe and help businesses reopen. Toronto Public Health has made additional recommendations to the Province about how we can stop the spread of COVID-19 now. These are tough recommendations, but I believe they are necessary in order to protect seniors in our long-term care homes and students in our schools. I will be fighting relentlessly to secure federal support for restaurants and other businesses. We need all residents and businesses to follow public health advice right now in order to stop this virus as quickly as possible and to avoid much tougher and much longer public health measures.”

– Mayor John Tory