Every neighbourhood would be a red zone right now, Toronto’s top doctor says as city reports record 1,069 COVID-19 cases

TORONTO — Toronto’s top doctor warned Wednesday that Torontonians should brace for more unsettling COVID-19 numbers in 2021 as the city broke above 1,000 daily COVID-19 infections for the first time.

“It is now reasonable that we should brace for an extended period of potentially unsettling and discouraging numbers in terms of COVID-19 infections in Toronto,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said.

Toronto reported a record 1,069 new cases Wednesday, breaking a previous record of 957 cases set just a day earlier.

It marks the fourth record high this month and de Villa said the latest data indicate that the infections are spread out across the city.

“The level of infection is such that every neighborhood in Toronto meets the province’s criteria for Red Zone designation,” de Villa said.

She said while it’s too early to say for sure whether Christmas gatherings played a role in the rising number of infections, data collected in the days leading up to the holiday between Dec. 14-20 indicate that about one in five people who caught the virus had gathered in a private home with people who weren’t members of their household. And that number could be a low estimate.

“Our fear is these results in fact underestimate the degree to which people were mixing over the holidays,” de Villa said.

De Villa noted that since Nov. 8, the city has also seen a 55 per cent increase in the seven-day rolling average for hospitalizations.

She said Toronto Public Health will be introducing new measures for workplaces next week to help reduce the risk of virus spread.

“These steps by Toronto Public Health, are meant to create as much distance and safety as possible while respecting many people need to work, and many businesses are rightly permitted to continue operations in order to provide the goods and services we all need in daily life,” de Villa said.

She also urged people to do their part to stop the spread.

“For all of us, we have no choice but to resolve to keep apart as much as possible to limit further spread at these levels, or at any level,” de Villa said. “It is possible, but it requires resolve, patience and belief. We can make the virus level decline.”

The city also reported four new deaths Wednesday.

At the briefing, Mayor John Tory pointed out that 78 Torontonians have died of COVID-19 since Christmas Eve and he urged people not to gather over New Year’s.

“Imagine losing a loved one at Christmas. Seventy-eight families in Toronto had to endure that this year, and we extend condolences to all of those grieving families,” Tory said. “We are still far from gaining the upper hand with this deadly virus and we have another chance to show how much better we can do at following public health advice with the upcoming New Year’s Eve, and the weekend to follow.”

De Villa urged people not to take the vaccine rollout expected over the course of 2021 as license to stop following infection-prevention measures or to give up based on rising numbers.

“Now is the time to focus on steps for our own self-protection and the protection of others because the risks around us are escalating,” she said. “The next several months cannot be seen as just the stretch of time between vaccine trial results and needles in arms or a period just to be waited out until it’s our turn for the shot.

“We must be active, we must be vigilant, determined and patient while we wait our turn. I urge you to double down on keeping apart.”

She said staying away from others as much as possible is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus and to ultimately bring the numbers down.

“It isn’t impossible and it won’t be easy. We need to be clear on that as we enter the New Year,” de Villa said. “However, it can be done and we can do it. It isn’t a question of if we can. But we have to earn this one.”  

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