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Toronto, Peel, Ottawa top doctors calling on Ford government to reimplement stay-at-home order

Last Updated Apr 6, 2021 at 8:49 am EDT

Toronto's Dr. Eileen de Villa (left), Peel Region's Dr. Lawrence Loh (middle), and Ottawa's Dr. Vera Etches (right). THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young and THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Medical officers of health in Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa are calling on the province to reinforce a stay-at-home order to protect their residents, saying the recently imposed “shutdown” is not enough to contain a growing spread in and across Ontario.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Dr. Lawrence Loh, and Dr. Vera Etches collectively say given the rapid deterioration in local indicators across the three public health units, more is required to reverse the surge in COVID-19 numbers.

“While the implementation of additional province-wide public health measures is welcome, stronger measures will be required to reverse the surge our health units (among others) currently face,” they said in a letter issued to Dr. David Williams.

“Both Peel and Toronto have seen rapid case growth while placed in the Grey Lockdown category of the COVID-19 Response Framework, highlighting the need for stronger public health measures.”

Public health restrictions have tightened across Ontario as of Saturday with the province now under what it calls a “shutdown” but allows some businesses, including malls, to stay open.

“There’s no question that measures that promote distance will help reduce transmission and importantly, they will also allow for vaccines to have their greatest effect in terms of protecting all of us,” says De Villa.

The three top doctors are also calling on the province and Dr. Williams to review businesses presently defined as essential, implement staffing limits of not more than 50 per cent, and impose travel restrictions between regions within Ontario.

The current measures, enforced through the use of the Ford government’s “emergency brake,” were introduced to combat what Premier Doug Ford calls an “alarming” surge in COVID-19 infections and are set to last for four weeks.

The lockdown, similar to current restrictions under the ‘Grey Zone,’ allows essential stores – such as groceries and pharmacies – to stay open at 50 percent capacity.

Non-essential retail can operate at 25 per cent capacity.

De Villa, Loh, and Etches point to the latest round of provincial modelling as a cause of concern after Ontario’s science advisers said stay-at-home orders will control the third wave of COVID-19, which is being driven by rising rates of the more deadly variants of concern.

“Our health care system is under pressure and we do not have an infinite number of health care workers,” Etches said on Twitter. “Vaccines are here, but we need more time and more supply for the vaccines to have a real impact. We need to stay strong for a little bit longer.”

RELATED: Peel Region schools to close Tuesday, remote learning in place until April 18

The Ontario Science Advisory Table says the province’s vaccine rollout is not reaching the highest risk communities, which is delaying its impact as an effective strategy to fight the pandemic.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown says the spread of variants threatens the province’s health system’s ability to deal with regular intensive care admissions and care for all patients.

“I am asking the Province to implement further restrictions, including a province-wide Stay at Home order,” Etches adds. “My team is in the process of reviewing the COVID data in schools to advise on an approach to take for schools in Ottawa.”

President of the Elementary Teachers Federation (ETFO) Sam Hammond says the “prudent decision” to close all schools in Peel Region will protect students and educators and support health care workers.

However, the union still wants to see all schools in other hot spots closed to in-person learning until teachers are vaccinated.

“As medical experts have said, there is no excuse—no valid reason—to not begin vaccinating all essential workers today,” said Hammond.  “This includes all education workers. Failure to do so, with so many available vaccines sitting in freezers, is negligent and dangerous.”

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) issued a statement on Monday, saying provincial doctors are concerned that we are entering the worst phase of the pandemic since last spring and urge everyone – all levels of government and every Ontarian – to take the warning seriously.

“I know that everyone is exhausted,” said OMA President Dr. Samantha Hill.

“The last year of living under restrictions, with fluctuating levels of fear, and serious visible inequities, has affected our social, mental, and economic health. But right now, we are all in danger. We must implement our strictest level of public health measures. The consequences of not doing so could include more people sick and dying than we have experienced thus far; so many so, that doctors could no longer care for everyone.”

The head of the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) says the province has set another record for intensive care unit occupancy.

The province says 44 new patients were admitted to I-C-U’s Sunday — pushing the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care to 494.

Anthony Dale, OHA President, says hospitals plan to transfer 88 patients from facilities in the GTA with high occupancy pressures to help address capacity issues.

But he says those hospitals need ‘urgent relief’ to ensure equitable access to critical care services for their very sick patients.

With files from The Canadian Press

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