Toronto to extend ban on indoor dining, fitness classes
As new COVID-19 cases surge in the city, six per cent of Torontonians are testing positive
Indoor dining, fitness classes, casinos and event spaces will remain closed for another 28 days when Toronto moves into the province’s new COVID-19 warning system this weekend.
Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, gave a stark warning to residents as she announced she was using her powers to implement strict new measures on November 14, when the modified Stage 2 restrictions expire.
“To everyone in Toronto, I want to warn you in the plainest possible terms that COVID-19 is out there at levels we have not seen before,” she said during a press briefing at city hall on Tuesday. “You should assume it is everywhere. And without proper precautions and protections, you are at risk of infection.”
De Villa said Toronto Public Health recorded 533 new cases in the past 24 hours. The city’s positivity rate is 5.9 per cent – meaning that out of everyone who gets tested, nearly six per cent are positive.
“The spread of COVID-19 has never been greater in Toronto,” she said.
On November 14 just after midnight, the city will move into the province’s “red” level. But de Villa is adding stricter measures under section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
De Villa said indoor dining in restaurants, bars and food and drink establishments will remain prohibited; meetings and event spaces, casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments will remain closed; and indoor group exercise and fitness classes will be prohibited.
Gyms, which closed under modified Stage 2, will be allowed to reopen as per the conditions laid out in the red level of the provincial framework.
Additionally, she is “strongly recommending” Torontonians limit social gatherings to only people they live with, plus one or two other “essential supports.”
She also advises everyone to restrict close contacts to people they live with and to only go out for essential reasons, such as work, school, health care, shopping or physical activity and exercise.
Businesses are “strongly recommended” to encourage employees to work from home and to ensure heating and ventilation systems are in good working order.
Mayor John Tory said he supports the measures, describing them as a “pre-emptive strike.”
“We are also seeing an increase in long-term care home outbreaks and hospitalizations,” Tory said. “While our hospitals continue to have capacity right now, we know they are concerned that situations could change very quickly.”
De Villa recommended an indoor dining ban in October, but declined to use the section 22 powers to implement it after the city’s lawyers advised her that she could be held personally liable.
Today she said the legal advice remains the same, but the situation has changed.
Though the province later enforced an indoor dining ban under the modified Stage 2 restrictions, De Villa faced criticism from the restaurant sector as case counts continue to rise.
At today’s press briefing, she gave specific numbers to illustrate a drop in COVID-19 cases in neighbourhoods with a lot of bars and restaurants and younger residents.
“We have seen some success,” she said.
In the three weeks prior to modified Stage 2 coming into force on October 10, de Villa said there were 275 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the waterfront and Toronto Island neighbourhood. That case rate has dropped to 49 per 100,000 by November 8, she said.
In Little Portugal, the COVID-19 case rate for the three weeks ending on October 10 was 604 per 100,000. By November 8, the rate dropped to 77 per 100,000.
“We understand the city needs to put safety first but so is the industry,” Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association wrote in an email to NOW. “Restaurants operate within a controlled environment, including contact tracing unlike many other sectors.
“This enables effective tracing on the occurrence of a case, which can occur anywhere, to stop the spread,” he added. “Much safer than public get-togethers at private residents. When restaurants close, private gatherings escalate. Government relief should be planned and applied to businesses proactively during shutdowns.”
De Villa was asked at Tuesday’s press briefing is she worried that the closure of indoor dining would push people to socialize in private homes.
“I supposed that’s always a possibility,” she said. “Based on our experience from the spring, we have seen what the residents of Toronto can do. And by and large, we have seen most residents of Toronto participate in the many protective measures and the good actions that we’re asking them to take in order to protect themselves and their community.
“What we need is people to continue to participate even more so than they have in order to prevent the spread,” she added.
Toronto and the province are continuing to see a surge in new infections. Ontario reported a record high 1,388 COVID-19 cases on November 10.
Hospitalizations and the seven-day rolling average for new cases also rose province-wide. Ontario’s testing positivity rate is now 4.8 per cent.
A week ago, de Villa said Toronto’s epidemic was “not escalating.” However, the city has since seen cases rise from the low 300s in October and pass the 400 and 500 marks more frequently in the past two weeks.
Toronto Public Health logged 401 cases on October 10, 447 on October 29, 427 on November 3, 460 on November 8 and 504 on November 9.
“These case count numbers are the most concerning I’ve seen in Toronto since the pandemic started,” de Villa said on Monday.
Last week, Ontario announced a new colour-coded COVID-19 warning system. The model places regions in green, yellow, orange and red levels based on local caseloads and hospital capacity levels, among other indicators.
York Region and Ottawa moved into orange on Saturday, which allowed indoor dining, gyms and cinemas to reopen.
At the request of Tory and de Villa, Toronto is remains in modified Stage 2 restrictions under the expiring system until November 14.
Peel moved into the red level on Saturday, but the region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh issued stricter measures on top of the province’s guidelines.
He said over the weekend that the region is possibly the hardest-hit in Canada, with around 100 cases per 100,000 people. Hospitals in the region are also at capacity.
Peel’s additional directives include a ban wedding receptions, directing restaurants to seat only people from the same household indoors and advising residents not to visit private households or yards unless it’s an emergency.