TORONTO — Ontario's two largest COVID-19 hot spots are asking the province to delay loosening restrictions in their regions for at least two weeks, saying easing measures earlier could lead to increased sickness and deaths.
The medical officers of health for Toronto and Peel Region made the request in a letter to Ontario's chief medical officer that was released Wednesday.
Dr. Eileen de Villa and Dr. Lawrence Loh said they recommend Toronto and Peel remain under their current restrictions – which include a stay-at-home order – until at least March 9.
"Any relaxation of measures, like that proposed for February 22nd, is expected to give rise to increased COVID-19 and (variants of concern) transmission over and above what is already occurring," they wrote in their letter.
"This, in turn, can be expected to result in increased COVID-19 related illnesses, outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths."
Ontario is set to lift the stay-home order for Peel, Toronto, York Region and North Bay next week and move the regions back into its pandemic restrictions framework. All other regions in the province have now made that transition.
De Villa and Loh said in their letter that they were concerned by the threat posed by more contagious variants of the virus. They also said the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had not yet dropped enough and hospitals still face capacity challenges.
De Villa said Toronto is simply not at point where restrictions can safely be lifted.
"I've never been as concerned about the threat of COVID-19 to your health as I am now, not at any other point in the pandemic," she told reporters when discussing the letter Wednesday.
Peel's Loh said that while cases have dropped, maintaining current restrictions for longer would permit authorities to get a better sense of larger trends.
"Holding the status quo for just one incubation period of14 days will allow us to better see where the various trends go and review any impact that school reopening might have on community contacts and transmission," he told reporters Wednesday.
Ontario has said it will consult with medical officers of health in each region before deciding where a community will placed in the province's tiered framework.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government has received preliminary data on the regions from the province's top doctor and will receive a further report and recommendations from him on Thursday.
No decisions have been made regarding whether the hot spots will remain under their current lockdown, she said.
"That's going to be determined after a review of the evidence," she said.
Ontario reported 847 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 10 more deaths related to the virus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2021.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press