COVID-19: How likely is the return of lockdown measures in Ontario?

The worst-case scenario would see restrictions imposed on parts of Ontario in the next few months, experts say


Experts are predicting a “worst case scenario” return to lockdown within the next few months after Ontario reported 313 new COVID-19 cases on Monday – the largest single-day increase since early June. 

Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, says that if Ontario doesn’t have a swift enough response to the current “troubling trends” in new COVID-19 cases, a winter lockdown may be possible. 

“I don’t think it’s going to look the same as it did in the spring,” she says. “I think we’ve learned more about the virus and how it spreads… we have a better handle on the disease and where it’s spreading, and better testing. I don’t foresee it being as geographically wide ranging.” 

Tuite says a more nuanced response to a potential return of lockdown measures could be the key to keeping the number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario from getting out of control.

“I don’t think at this point we need a blanket return to Stage Two, for example. I think if we react strongly in the hotspots, particularly in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa, and are able to get those case numbers back down again, we may not need to have a more province-wide response,” she says.

Toronto reported 112 new cases, along with 71 in Peel and 60 in Ottawa. The three regions make up 78 per cent of the total new cases. 

Ford blames new cases on social gatherings

Premier Doug Ford has yet to commit to any additional restrictions just yet, though he noted in a press conference on Monday that he’s keeping an eye on the areas and actions most responsible for a majority of case increases so far.

“It’s not the bars or the restaurants, it’s social gatherings,” he said.

Tuite says if social gatherings are causing cases to rise, potential restrictions should take that into consideration.

“We could shut down the bars and restaurants, but that may not have the effect that we want. So we may need to reconsider the recommended gathering sizes, we need to focus on those sorts of policies and have people reconsider their social circles,” she says. 

Anna Banerji, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto and associate professor of pediatrics at Dalla Lana School of Public Health, says that the more information the public has about where the spread of COVID-19 is happening the most, the better equipped everyone will be to make decisions.

“If there’s good reason and evidence, I think people will be more willing to comply,” she says. 

With kids beginning to go back to school, Tuite says she expects even more of an increase in COVID-19 case numbers, which means implementing restrictions is essential.

“We’re about to have a huge increase in terms of contact patterns and who’s interacting with whom,” she says. “So something has to give.”

De Villa “certain” there will be cases in schools

On Monday, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa said the city recorded 264 new infections since Friday.

She added that Toronto Public Health officials are “certain” there will be cases in schools and outlined the contact-tracing process that will happen should a child contracts the virus.

“This isn’t to say that schools will always be the source of the infection,” she explained. “Wherever it comes from, here’s what will happen and what you’ll be told if there’s a case of COVID-19 at your child’s school.”

De Villa gave three examples of how local cases spread over the weekend: at a big family gathering where many were unmasked; a family trip; and a busy restaurants where a performer went table to table, unmasked. The restaurant was loud, forcing people to lean in to speak with one another.

She encouraged residents to continue following public health protocols, including mask wearing and physical distancing.

“These aren’t bad people. This is just human nature. We want to socialize and we want to be together. We want to be close to one another and we want to spend time with people we love,” she said. “We want to believe that COVID-19 will only infect other people. But that’s probably the biggest mistake we can make right now.”

@juliajmastro

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