Premier Doug Ford has raised the alarm in the last few days that the new modelling of COVID-19 cases was going to make people “fall out of their chair” when they saw it. Tuesday was the day that Ford not only released the new modelling, but the new provincial restrictions based on that modelling, and the Premier said that there are “unthinkable consequences” coming if we don’t change course.
“The latest modelling data shows that Ontario is in a crisis and, with the current trends, our hospital ICUs will be overwhelmed in a few short weeks with unthinkable consequences,” said Ford in a statement. “That’s why we are taking urgent and decisive action, which includes declaring a provincial emergency and imposing a stay-at-home-order. By doing the right thing and staying home, you can stay safe and save lives.”
Nearly 40 per cent of long-term care homes have active COVID-19 outbreaks right now, and with 198 residents already dead since January 1, the second wave of the pandemic could be worse than the first so far as fatalities in care are concerned according to the data released today.
In other concerning news, over 400 ICU beds in the province are currently occupied, and that could go up to 500 beds by the end of the week and over 1,000 beds in February.
One quarter of Ontario hospitals currently have no free beds in the ICU, and another quarter only have one or two beds currently available. This is not just a phenomenon in the Greater Toronto Area either. Cornwall Community Hospital, Niagara Health System St. Catherines and Stratford General Hospital are among the hospitals that have no available ICU beds right now, while Guelph General Hospital currently has two.
The modelling also noted that most Ontarians are following the current restrictions, but if the restrictions and the present reaction to them remain unchanged, then Ontario will see the daily mortality rate double, from 50 to 100 deaths per day, between now and the end of February. Government scientists are calling on everyone to reduce the number of contacts they make or the health system will be overwhelmed with the sick and dying.
So what now?
Ford announced the declaration of a second provincial emergency earlier this afternoon. Effective as of 12:01 am on Thursday, the Government of Ontario is issuing a stay-at-home order that will require everyone to remain at home with the exception of trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing healthcare, exercise, or working at a job that can’t be done remotely.
On Wednesday, the Province will also start restricting outdoor gatherings to five people, which is consistent with public health measures in the first lockdown in spring 2020. All non-essential retail stores including hardware, liquor and businesses doing curbside pick-up and delivery will not be allowed to open before 7 am, and must close no later than 8 pm, but those restrictions won’t apply to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and restaurants doing takeout and delivery.
The Province will also be pausing all non-essential construction, including below-grade construction, for the duration. Provincial police officers, bylaw officers, and workplace inspectors will also be given some more discretion to ticket people that are not complying with the stay-at-home order, or are unmasked indoors.
Finally, schools in the Grey-Lockdown areas including Toronto, Peel, York, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex will not be re-opening again until February 10. Next week, the Chief Medical Officer of Health will be giving advise to the Ministry of Education on which public health areas will be allowed to resume in-person learning as recently re-scheduled to January 25.
“Despite our best efforts, COVID-19 is continuing to spread in our communities. We are continuing to see concerning trends across the province, including a tragic number of deaths,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott. “We have made great strides in vaccinating tens of thousands of Ontarians, and we can’t let these efforts go to waste. Urgent action is required to break this deadly trend of transmission, ensure people stay home, and save lives.”
Even before the delayed announcement at Queen’s Park Tuesday afternoon, the knives were already out for the Ford government.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic we have been calling on the Premier to restore paid sick leave, to reduce class sizes, to provide rent relief, and to increase staffing and resources in long term care homes,” Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner said in a statement before Ford’s press conference. “At every turn, the Premier spent his time pleading at the mic instead of leading. That must end today.”
After the new emergency was declared, Schreiner refined his attack to making sure that Ontario residents have the resources they need to make it through the lockdown. “The Premier needs to provide us with a concrete goal that people can get behind for what lockdowns will achieve and metrics for additional restrictions and the lifting of restrictions,” he said.
Official opposition leader Andrea Horwath called the government’s response “horrifying” and made several of the same recommendations as Schreiner along with funding for self-isolation centres, a massive ramp-up in testing at workplaces and schools, and the restriction of non-essential travel between regions.
“According to the government’s own medical advice, more people are going to suffer and die as a result of Doug Ford’s refusal to act — his refusal to invest in more protections and to close loopholes,” said Horwath in a statement. “Hospitals are in the process of being overwhelmed, and long-term care homes are in the grips of a deadly crisis. Thousands more people are getting sick every single day. The half measures and loopholes must stop.”
The Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) also wants rapid testing, paid sick days, and other other measures requested by the opposition leaders. They’re also demanding that the government implement changes to long-term care previously suggested by the Long-Term Care Commission including four hours of daily care per resident, and the hiring and training of thousands of new front-line workers.
“By focusing on a stay-at-home order, reduced hours for stores, and requiring non-essential workers to work from home, this government is scapegoating everyday people and evading responsibility,” said President of CUPE Ontario Fred Hahn in a statement. “Now that the Province has declared a state of emergency, it needs to use its powers to immediately take the measures we desperately need. And the Tories need to understand: with Emergency Powers comes total responsibility. What happens in the next few months will be 100 per cent on their heads.”
Taking a more tactical tone, the Ontario Hospital Association said that they’re working with the Ministry of Health on how best to support provincial hospitals and “mitigate against this impending disaster.” They’re also asking all Ontarians to do their part by following public health measures to the letter.
“The weeks ahead will be extremely difficult as hospitals fight relentlessly to protect lives and minimize harm,” said President and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association Anthony Dale. “It is history and the judgement of future generations that will determine whether enough was done to prevent the crisis that now faces us all.”
In Ontario, the number of new cases on Tuesday fell under 3,000 for the first time in several days, but not by much. There were 2,903 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed through Public Health Ontario, and there were an additional 41 deaths from the virus. Ontario crossed the grim milestone of 5,000 total deaths from COVID on Monday.
In Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph there was just 35 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. There have been 3,300 total confirmed cases of COVID now in our area since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, and the current number of active cases is 451. There have been a total of 55 deaths from COVID-19 in our area, and 18 of those have been in Guelph.