TORONTO — Toronto’s medical officer of health says that measures adopted to combat the spread of COVID-19 could be in place for months as the city confirms eight more deaths related to the virus.
“Based on the experiences of other jurisdictions, it is my belief that these measures may need to be in place for up to 12 weeks,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said at a news conference on Wednesday morning.
“But I would tell you that how long these measures need to be in place, how successful we are in terms of controlling virus spread is entirely in our hands.”
“The more we are able to put these measures into place, the more we are able as a community to adhere to these measures, to adhere to the recommendations, the shorter will be the duration of these measures and the more effective we will be, most importantly, at reducing the loss of lives in our community.”
There are currently 818 cases of COVID-19 in the city.
Of those 818, 75 patients are in hospital, 35 of which are in an intensive care unit.
On Wednesday afternoon, Toronto public health said that 19 COVID-19 patients have died in the city, an increase from the 11 deaths reported earlier in the day. 47 other patients have recovered.
“In the last two weeks we have seen a more than 500 per cent increase in these counts. This is a not a favourable trajectory and as your medical officer of health responsible for protecting the city’s health, your health, I am deeply concerned.”
The city says that it is now taking “unprecedented action” to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Toronto including the following measures:
- Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 are ordered by the medical officer of health to stay home, under the Health Protection and Promotion Act for 14 days
- Any person who has had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 is also ordered to stay home by the medical officer of health for 14 days
- Anyone who is not ill or has not travelled, is strongly directed to stay home except for the following reasons: Accessing healthcare or medication, shopping for groceries once per week, walking their dogs or to get daily exercise while maintaining physical distancing of at least two metres
- People returning from international travel must stay home, which is already a federal order
- Anyone over the age of 70, as the province announced this week, is strongly encouraged to stay home as much as possible
- Increased supports for self-isolation for those experiencing homelessness
- Only essential businesses remain open, and those businesses maximize physical distancing and infection prevention and control practices, and limit in-person access to those businesses, as much as possible
- Increased cleaning and active screening of employees at all businesses.
“I realize that I depict a very stark picture here, a very stark picture, but one that is honest and true and premised on the data in front of us,” de Villa said.
“The more we can, as Torontontians, rally together for the next 12 weeks to comply with these measures, the more we can make it through this challenge and protect ourselves, our loved ones and our entire city.”
Earlier this month, Ontario health officials recommended the closure of all restaurants and bars, with the exception of takeout and delivery options, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
On March 23, the Ontario government enforced those recommendations with an order to all non-essential services to close down.
As a result, the city says that in the last two weeks alone, the economic loss to the retail sector is estimated to be $291 million.
Mayor John Tory said that he fully supports the measures recommended by Toronto public health officials, adding that the number of cases in the city is headed in “the wrong direction.”
“It has become absolutely clear that this is going to be a very long battle and that there is more to do,” Tory said.
“Assume it will likely be up to the 12 weeks that the doctor has outlined with temptations not to follow these measures increasing as the weather improves. We must show strength in sticking to this game plan so by the time summer comes, we have turned an important corner.”
Tory noted that a bylaw has been drafted, at his request, to enforce social distancing limits set by the medical officer of health.
“We have not brought that bylaw forward at this time, but it is drafted and if it’s necessary for us to use it in order to try and create a greater sense of adherence to these very reasonable recommendations that are being made to stop the spread of this virus, then that will be proceeded with.”
Tory noted that the bylaw could only be enforced on city-owned property including sidewalks, streets and parks.
On Tuesday, Ontario’s solicitor general announced that anyone caught breaking the province’s emergency laws will have to identify themselves to police and could face steep fines for non-compliance.