Toronto residents should now only be leaving home for ‘essential trips,’ top official warns

Toronto’s top public health official says that indoor dining should again be suspended and residents should only be leaving their homes for “essential trips” amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Eileen de Villa made the non-binding recommendations in a letter that was sent to Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams on Friday.

In the letter, she asked Williams to either approve a series of changes that would essentially return Toronto to something more closely resembling the lockdown we saw in the spring or provide her with the authority to do so herself.

The recommendations made by de Villa in the letter include the suspension of indoor dining at bars and restaurants as well as the cancellation of all group fitness classes and sports activities that take place indoors.

She is also recommending that “people only leave their homes for essential activities, such as work, education, exercise and fitness, healthcare appointments and the purchase of food.”

“We have seen in other places what happens when COVID-19 gains the upper hand. Without quick action to implement further public health measures, there is an acute risk the virus will continue to spread widely, causing serious illness, stressing the health care system and further straining Toronto’s economy,” de Villa said in a press release issued on Friday afternoon. “It is my duty as Medical Officer of Health to do what it takes to break the dangerous chain of transmission and so I have asked the province to support us through legislation or by granting me further authority to act.”

Toronto’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases stood at 40 at the beginning of September but has risen rapidly since then and is now 236, a near six-fold increase.

Alarmingly, the city has also seen the virus slowly permeate long-term care homes once again with the number of active outbreaks in those settings rising from two to nine over the last three weeks.

In the press release issued on Friday afternoon, the city said that de Villa and her staff explored alternative options to the full suspension of indoor dining such as “requiring individuals to only dine in with members of their household” but ultimately concluded that such measures would not be enforceable or particularly effective.

“These are tough recommendations, but I believe they are necessary in order to protect seniors in our long-term care homes and students in our schools,” Mayor John Tory said in the release. “We need all residents and businesses to follow public health advice right now in order to stop this virus as quickly as possible and to avoid much tougher and much longer public health measures.”

At this point it is unclear whether the province intends to implement any of the recommendations made by de Villa.

Speaking with reporters at a briefing on Friday afternoon, Williams said that de Villa feels “very firmly that because of the rapid rise of numbers within her jurisdiction” there is a need for “even more extensive measures” to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“She felt she has the data to back that up with the restaurants and bars and she has seen some (infections) with group activities in event centres, such as gymnasiums as well as in some sports groups, which we haven’t seen yet in the rest of the province,” he said. “One of our challenges is that we don’t see the same thing across the province.”

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