Ontario premier says he will not make 'snap decision' on lockdowns despite calls from hospitals

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TORONTO — Premier Doug Ford says he will not make a “snap decision” on whether to put more regions into a lockdown amid record-breaking COVID-19 infections, despite a call from the Ontario Hospital Association to move all regions in the “red” zone of the COVID-19 framework into a “robustly enforced” shutdown.

Speaking at a news conference on Thursday afternoon, the premier said he has been in discussions with the OHA and hospital CEOs, but actively avoided mentioning the possibility of future public health measures.

“There’s a lot of things to consider,” Ford told reporters. “The worst thing we could do is rush up there and make a snap decision in a heartbeat. We have to make sure that if we do make this decision, is it going to be two weeks, is it going to be three weeks, is it going to be 28 days for a full cycle?”

“So there’s so many things to consider. But again, I won’t hesitate, I will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to slow down this trend that we see.”

Among the list of things to consider, according to the premier, includes the availability of daycare, schools, ensuring hotels are available for people who have COVID-19, alternatives for hospitals who are at capacity, and more support for small businesses.

“I’m always concerned about the small businesses,” Ford said, hinting that before a decision can be made on further restrictions, support needs to be guaranteed for owners.

Hours before the premier’s news conference, the OHA called for “immediate action” as the number of daily infections and hospitalizations related to the novel coronavirus continues to grow.

In a statement issued on Thursday morning, the association called for “immediate action” as the number of daily infections and hospitalizations related to the novel coronavirus continues to grow.

“A growing number of hospitals are grappling with outbreaks, and many have already had to cancel scheduled surgeries and other activity. Ontario’s health care professionals are being asked to carry a very heavy burden,” the OHA said.

“The situation is extremely serious. We are now in the holiday season and if members of the public choose to ignore public health measures and gather outside their households, the consequences risk overwhelming Ontario’s hospitals. Every health care system has its breaking point.”

For the third day in a row, Ontario has logged more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period. The provincial death toll related to the disease also surpassed 4,000 this week.

Due to the rising number of infections, the OHA is recommending that, as a minimum, the Ontario government implement a four-week lockdown in every public health unit with an infection rate of 40 per 100,000 people or higher. They also ask that the lockdown be “robustly” enforced.

“This is in keeping with the criteria laid out in the government’s COVID-19 Response Framework, and is necessary to protect the health and safety of the people of Ontario and to ensure that hospitals do not face a devastating surge in COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization and intensive care in January.”

Under the province’s current framework, regions with a weekly incidence rate of more than 40 people per 100,000 are placed in the “red” zone, the final category before a full lockdown. Public events and social gatherings are limited to five people indoors and 25 people outdoors and establishments such as restaurants and gyms are allowed to remain open for in-person dining with strict capacity limits.

As of Thursday, seven public health units are in the “red zone,” including Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Middlesex-London, Simcoe-Muskoka, Waterloo and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph.

According to Wednesday’s provincial epidemiology report, there are nine other public health units reporting a weekly incidence rate of more than 40 people per 100,000, using the week of Dec. 6 to Dec. 12 as a reference.

Toronto, Peel Region, York Region, and Windsor-Essex are the only areas currently under lockdown, or in the “grey’ zone.

“This expanded lockdown would provide a valuable opportunity for the Government of Ontario to reset and recalibrate the components of its response to ensure that we are able to gradually re-open safely,” the OHA said.

“To succeed, it requires that all levels of government work together to provide essential financial supports to businesses being asked to make sacrifices due to the lockdown, and programs such as paid sick leave and isolation accommodation for people with COVID-19 who do not have the financial means to avoid working outside the home.”

The OHA is also calling for the “grey” zone in the province’s framework to be “rapidly re-evaluated” by independent public health and epidemiological experts “to determine if additional, stricter provisions are necessary.”

Speaking late Thursday morning, Durham Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Kyle said that while he doesn’t believe a lockdown is necessary in his area, a GTA-wide shutdown may make sense in light of a rise in cases he partially attributes to the “spillover effect.”

“We do have quite a number of outbreaks, but for the most part they are very short lived and go into containment measures. And although the hospital and public health unit are stretched they are certainly not overwhelmed,” Kyle said. “So my guess would be we would stay put for now but it is provincial call and it may makes sense to take a more broad GTA wide approach.”

“But the metrics certainly have not worsened considerably from when we were placed in red recently. I think there are spillover effects and what impact York Region going into grey will have in Durham.”

Kyle said he has heard anecdotal reports of chartered buses bringing residents in Toronto, which was placed under a lockdown order in mid-November, to malls in Durham Region.

“We have been working with mall management to try to control the inflow of shoppers and to ensure that there are appropriate adherence to gathering limits. So certainly, we are hearing about that on the shopping side and it stands to reason that others may be coming into Durham region for other purposes.”

There were 919 people receiving treatment for COVID-19 in Ontario hospitals on Thursday.

At Humber River Hospital in Etobicoke, CEO Barb Collins said they are “managing” the pace of elective procedures in the facility to ensure that all COVID-19 patients could get a bed when they need it.

They have 48 beds in their intsensive care unit, and are currently treating 53 people with that level of care.

She said they have repurposed nurses and other staff to the ICU to deal with it being over its normal capacity.

Toronto officials have said they are already in discussion with the province over the implementation of stricter and more broad lockdown measures over the holidays in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the city, but no details have been provided regarding what that would look like.

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