Toronto's medical officer of health called Friday the "most important day" the city has faced during the fall resurgence of the pandemic — saying new restrictions brought in by the province will give the city a chance to curb the novel coronavirus.
"The actions poised to come into effect will make it harder for COVID-19 to spread," Dr. Eileen de Villa said during a city hall news briefing. She was referring to several measures the government of Premier Doug Ford announced earlier, such as a 28-day prohibition of indoor dining at bars and restaurants, as well as closing cinemas and gyms.
"If we rob COVID-19 of that, a declining infection rate has to follow."
But she warned it will take weeks before Torontonians see a downward trend in new cases — and residents should do their part now by thinking twice about attending any gatherings.
De Villa announced the city saw 350 new COVID-19 infections in the past day, bringing the total count for Toronto up to 21, 919 total cases. There are currently 95 people in hospital, with 26 in the ICU and 12 are intubated, she said.
She called the new restrictions the province brought in Friday an "opportunity" for Toronto to get back on track. You can read more about that here.
"If we think of COVID-19 like a forest fire, the announcement today by the provincial government is a firebreak," she said. "We face a natural forest poised to either burn out of control or to become something we have the ability to bring under control.
"We now have an opportunity to reduce and reverse the COVID-19 infection rates in Toronto," she said.
De Villa originally recommended to the province a week ago that all indoor dining, indoor group classes in gyms and indoor sports activities be shuttered because of rising COVID-19 cases.
When asked by reporters if she's satisfied with the province's new measures, she said she's "content" to see the new actions being launched and is "hopeful" that they will result in a reduced number of infections.
WATCH | Premier Doug Ford announces new health restrictions in COVID-19 hotspots:
"I would ask the people of Toronto to have some faith that this is the right path. Knowing what we experienced in the spring, we know what makes a difference in terms of controlling the spread of this virus," she said.
However, she added that residents and officials need to continue to be vigilant in monitoring positivity rates and constantly assessing whether restrictions are enough.
Heading into Thanksgiving weekend, Toronto's current infection rates are alarming. In the last eight days, the city reported 2,000 new cases in total. That makes up 10 per cent of Toronto's total case count since the start of the pandemic.
For the holiday weekend, de Villa advises spending Thanksgiving only with those in your home, adding that it's "not an easy ask" for people who live alone.
"If you must be with other people that you don't live with, try to do it outside. Always keep at least six feet apart, wear your mask as much as you can and wash your hands as much as you can," she said.
Tory urges limiting Thanksgiving gatherings, touts winter patio program
Mayor John Tory echoed de Villa in urging Torontonians not to gather for Thanksgiving weekend.
"Please do not hold big Thanksgiving gatherings. Please limit your Thanksgiving dinner to people you live with under the same roof, all of the time. And if you live alone, the safest option is to join with others virtually," said Tory, adding he's hopeful Christmas will be different.
This weekend, COVID-19 enforcement teams will continue to engage in "proactive inspections" and respond to complaints around safety regulations, said Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, who is leading the city's pandemic response. Residents can call 311 if they have a complaint. Tory stated the progress the city has made over the course of the pandemic is at "incredible risk" and will affect the reopening of schools and ensuring seniors are protected in long-term care homes.
WATCH | Long-term care homes at risk amid infections resurgance:
While Tory thanked Ford for introducing the new measures Friday, he also acknowledged the decision to increase restrictions is "agonizing" and will cause "frustration and heartbreak" for businesses such as restaurants and bars.
"The public advice was clear that closing indoor dining right now is needed to help stop the spread of the virus," he said.
He pointed to the new supports announced today by the federal government to help ailing businesses during the fall resurgence of cases and said ensuring the funding is speedy during this time is crucial.
Tory said the city has extended parts of the CaféTO program for as long as it's possible and is looking to implement a winter patio program. More details on that will be provided next week, he said.
City shutting down a range of programs
The City of Toronto announced earlier Friday that it is suspending some recreation programs, as newly-released data from the morning showed the city had 336 new COVID-19 infections in the past day.
City staff are adapting recreational activities so they can operate outdoors and are looking into further winter outdoor activities, said Tory at the news conference.
Toronto continues to be the hardest hit city in Ontario, with the province's chief medical officer of health again calling it a hot zone for infections. Provincewide, there were a record 939 new COVID-19 cases on Friday.
Coun. Joe Cressy, who chairs the city's board of health, welcomed the province's restrictions, in a news release.
"These are the actions we must take if we want to keep schools and child care centres open, so children can learn and parents can work. It's what we have to do to make sure our hospitals don't become overwhelmed. And it's what is necessary to stop transmission of this virus, and help save lives," he said.
Cressy said the city knows the changes will be tough on the public and business owners alike, "but unfortunately, COVID-19 doesn't move in a straight line."
In a news release issued Friday morning, the city said recreation staff have been working with public health to review Toronto's programs, and so effective Saturday, these programs and services are suspended:
- Registered and instructional programs such as learn-to-skate and swim programs, dance, group fitness and wellness programs
- Hockey games and scrimmages
- Drop-in sports programs other than leisure and lane swim and leisure skate
- Table tennis, billiards, foosball
- Access to the city's two conservatories
- Indoor permits for social gatherings and sport games/group fitness.
The city says these programs have been deemed high-risk for virus transmission as they are indoors, "where the physical nature of the activity results in close contact and where masks cannot be worn."
These suspensions will impact about 20,000 people who have signed up for programs, the city said, adding that refunds will be automatically issued in the next few weeks.
The following programs will continue to operate with capacity restrictions and other health measures in place:
- Leisure swim and skate
- Lane swimming
- Fitness centres
- Arts and general interest instruction
- After-school Recreation Care
- December camps for children
- Drop-in youth programs that do not include sports
- Indoor athletic training permits with no game play, including hockey training
- Permits for outdoor sports.
The city says that all of its outdoor amenities in parks and green spaces, like sports fields, skate parks, trails, tennis courts, basketball courts, and outdoor fitness equipment remain open.
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