COVID-19: Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa medical officers call for provincewide stay-at-home order

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Ontario teachers seeking eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines
WATCH ABOVE: Ontario teachers say the third wave has been a challenge to manage, and there is growing concern about safety in the classroom. Many teachers want to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines given the prevalence of variants and increased spread of the virus. Katherine Ward reports – Apr 3, 2021

The medical officers of health for Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa have sent a letter to Ontario’s chief medical officer requesting that the provincial government implement a provincewide stay-at-home order and consider additional restrictions amid the third wave of COVID-19.

Global News obtained a copy of the letter sent to Dr. David Williams on Sunday.

In the letter, Dr. Eileen de Villa, the medical officer of health for Toronto, Dr. Lawrence Loh of Peel Region, and Dr. Vera Etches of Ottawa said “stronger measures will be required to reverse the surge our health units (among others) currently face.”

Last week, the province implemented a 28-day provincewide shutdown amid rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations which, among other things, meant restaurants and bars are limited to take out only, gyms and personal care services must close, and indoor social gatherings must remain limited to members of one’s own household.

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The province didn’t implement a stay-at-home order and non-essential retail can stay open with capacity restrictions.

De Villa, Loh, and Etches, however, said in their letter that modelling and experiences around the world show that stricter measures are needed to get a hold of the third wave of the virus, which is largely driven by more contagious variants of concern.

“We are asking that you, as chief medical officer of health, issue a provincewide stay-at-home order,” the letter read.

While local medical officers of health have the ability to implement their own restrictions, the letter said experiences in other jurisdictions show that managing variants requires widespread measures.

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“A stay-at-home order issued by the province through an emergency order is necessary to prevent and mitigate large-scale morbidity and mortality and irreparable strain on the health-care system,” the doctors said.

“Stricter lockdowns have been shown to be effective in other countries to control transmission while vaccine campaigns progressed to achieve sufficient population coverage to suppress transmission.”

The doctors also asked Williams to consider recommending additional measures in addition to a stay-at-home order, including reviewing businesses deemed essential with the aim of removing some from the list.

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The letter also said the province should also consider additional capacity measures for businesses that are deemed essential, look at imposing travel restrictions between Ontario regions, legislate paid sick days to supplement federal supports, and move schools to remote learning in areas where outbreaks are significant.

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On Monday, Loh ordered schools in Peel Region to close for two weeks.

Toronto Public Health staff said they are not currently going to do the same.

Etches said her team “is in the process of reviewing the COVID data in schools to advise on an approach to take for schools in Ottawa.”

A spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said they continue to believe that schools should remain open, insisting the facilities “remain safe.”

In response to the letter from the medical officers of health, the Ministry of Health noted that the shutdown measures recently put in place will take time to have their intended effects due to the virus incubation period.

“Our government will continue act on the advice of the chief medical officer of health who will review the science, data and trends along with collaborating with local medical officers of health and our team of expert health officials on if and when public health measure can be loosened or strengthened,” the statement continued.

Ontario reported 2,938 coronavirus cases on Monday and 10 deaths. There were reported to be 476 people in ICUs with COVID-19, which is the highest since the pandemic began.

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— With files from Catherine McDonald

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