Ontario puts 'pause' on further loosening of public health measures as COVID-19 numbers rise

Ontario puts 'pause' on further loosening of public health measures as COVID-19 numbers rise

Ontario is putting a "pause" of four weeks on any further loosening of public health measures in the province, Minister of Health Christine Elliott said Tuesday.

The province reported 185 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and 190 on Monday — the most on any single day since July 24. Data for both days was released early Tuesday because the province did not issue an updated report on Labour Day.

At the province's daily news conference, Elliott said Ontario's "latest trends and numbers have raised some concern." She said the pause includes things like expanding the size of the province's social circles and the number of people allowed at sporting events.

That pause does not include schools, which started reopening in parts of the province on Tuesday. Elliot acknowledged community spread will likely mean spread in schools, but said the province's approach is to limit the spread at the community level to keep the virus from entering schools.

The pause also doesn't include casinos, several of which will reopen on Sept. 28, with a limit of 50 guests per room.

WATCH | Elliott speaks about Ontario's reopening pause:

As has consistently been the case in recent weeks, Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa saw the most additional infections in Tuesday's update with 48, 42 and 37, respectively. The day before those three public health units confirmed, respectively, 60, 57 and 25 more cases.

Meanwhile, York Region reported 17 and 19 further cases over the last two days.

At Tuesday's news conference, Premier Doug Ford said there are "three regions that are concerning to me" — Brampton, Ottawa and Toronto.

He pleaded with people to avoid large gatherings.

"It's frustrating because it affects the rest of the province."

When asked if he would consider a rollback to the second stage of the province's reopening plan, Ford said he would consult with Ontario's health experts.

"We aren't there yet," Ford said, but he also noted if infection levels continue to rise, that could change.

Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe echoed that sentiment in a news conference Tuesday afternoon saying, "There is no clear plan right now to go back to Stage 2."

That doesn't mean the province wouldn't consider rollbacks, but restrictions might happen on a regional basis depending on various factors including the number of cases, trends in infection and the percentage of infections with no clear epidemiological link.

The five-day rolling average of new daily cases in Ontario, a measure that smoothes peaks and valleys in data, has been trending steadily upward since a low on Aug. 9.

The province has now seen a total of 43,536 confirmed infections of the coronavirus since the outbreak began in late January. Around 90 per cent of those are considered resolved, with 119 more marked as resolved in today's update.

There are currently about 1,527 confirmed, active cases of the illness provincewide, with a majority in Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa.

Several of Ontario's newest cases are linked to a church in Toronto and a wedding in York Region, said Yaffe. Some schools have reported cases, she added, but those were acquired in communities, not in the schools themselves, she said.

Speaking to reporters this morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory drew attention to the troubling number of cases in younger people. Of the 968 cases confirmed in the city in the last month, he said 65 per cent were people under the age of 40, and that some 15 per cent of those cases were in people under 20.

"We can now see that a substantial number of cases are happening among people, sometimes very young," Tory said.

Ontario's official COVID-19 death toll now sits at 2,813. A CBC News count based on data directly from public health units puts the real toll at 2,854.

Return to school for many students

The new figures come as students in Ontario begin returning to the classroom in person today for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

At Tuesday's press conference, Ford said it's a good thing that kids are getting back to school, "where they belong."

The premier said the province has so far delivered more than 37 million pieces of PPE to Ontario school boards, including 19.5 million masks and 16 million gloves.

Ford also said that if anyone in a student's household is sick this fall, everyone in the home should consider getting tested for COVID-19.

"If your child is sick, please have them stay at home," he said.

The province shuttered all schools on March 13 as cases of the virus began to rise.

This fall, boards will offer a mix of in-person classes and online learning for students who opt to stay home.

Some boards in different parts of the province will reopen schools today, while others will begin to restart over the next two weeks.

Last month, Education Minister Stephen Lecce gave boards permission to stagger school reopenings if they required more time to put pandemic safety protocols in place.

For instance, high school students in the Peel District School Board will start orientation today and elementary students will begin Wednesday, while Toronto District School Board students will not return to class until Sept. 15.