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Ontario implementing stricter public health measures as province sets COVID-19 case record

Ontario is introducing a number of stricter public health measures — some provincewide and some more targeted to current hot spots such as Toronto, Ottawa and Peel — as the province reported a record-high number of new COVID-19 cases on Friday.

The provincial government is also making significant changes to the process of getting a COVID-19 test, which as of Oct. 6 will be done by appointment only. Assessment centres will stop offering walk-in tests of Oct. 4 in an effort to allow Ontario’s network of labs to work through a backlog of tests that ballooned to more than 90,500 today.

As part of today’s changes, Ontario is also putting the concept of social circles on pause and advising people to limit close contact only to people living in their own household and maintain two metres distance from everyone else. People who live alone may consider having close contact with another household.

“Just keep your circles tight,” Premier Doug Ford said at an afternoon news conference, during which multiple reporters expressed confusion about the details of the province’s updated advice.

For example. Ford and his top health officials struggled to answer when asked if someone should visit their parent who lives in a different house on Thanksgiving later this month. 

Meanwhile, masks will now be required in all work places where physical distancing of two metres or more is not possible, as well as on all public transit and in shopping centres provincewide. 

Any additional business reopenings in Ontario will be put on hold for at least 28 more days, Ford said.

CBC News previously reported on a proposal before Ford’s cabinet that would have designated Toronto, Ottawa and Peel as “red zones.” Ford confirmed he had been looking at that proposal but that he decided against doing so after speaking with Quebec Premier François Legault, who said the system, which is in place there, was not effective.

“I was talking to Premier Legault and he told me it was very very confusing to the public. You’re constantly changing the colours … Ottawa, Toronto and Peel, they’re the hot spots,” Ford said.

But Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, repeatedly called the three areas “hot zones” during Friday’s news conference.

Instead, in these three regions, the province has opted to:

  • Limit capacity in bars, restaurants and nightclubs to ensure physical distancing up to a maximum of 100 people. There can only be six people at a single table. All customers must provide information for contact tracing. 
  • Limit the size of exercise classes to 10 people and allow a maximum of 50 people into gyms and other fitness settings.
  • Limit on the number of people allowed at meeting and event facilities, including banquet halls, to six people per table and 50 people per facility.

WATCH | Ontario Premier Doug Ford introduces further restrictions across Ontario:

Though focused primarily on Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region, Ontario Premier Doug Ford unveiled new public health measures for the province to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 3:57

Criticism from local health officials

The province’s updated guidelines were not well received by Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health. The city saw 323 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. 

In a letter to the government, De Villa said it must introduce stricter measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in the city.

They include:

  • Prohibiting indoor dining.
  • Asking people to only leave their homes for essential trips.
  • Prohibiting all indoor fitness classes and indoor sports team activities.
  • Requiring large venues to submit a plan to Toronto Public health outlining how they will comply with public health regulations.

“These are tough recommendations, but I believe they are necessary in order to protect seniors in our long-term care homes and students in our schools,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement.

Test backlog grows

Ontario reported 732 additional cases of COVID-19 today.

Toronto saw the most, though Health Minister Christine Elliott noted that some cases confirmed in the spring were included in today’s number due to a data review by Toronto Public Health.

Ottawa recorded 141 more cases and Peel 111.

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases include:

  • York Region: 38
  • Durham Region: 34
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 13
  • Halton Region: 11
  • Niagara Region: 11
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 10

About 58 per cent of the newly confirmed infections are in people under 40 years old, Elliott noted, including 30 in students.

The previous record of 700 new cases came just five days ago on September 28. 

The province’s official COVID-19 death toll took a considerable jump, increasing by 76 to 2,927. However 74 of those deaths were “reported for cases that occurred in the spring or summer and are now being recorded as part of a data review and data cleaning initiative,” the Ministry of Health said.

Ontario’s network of labs processed 40,093 test samples for the novel coronavirus yesterday, while the backlog of tests waiting to be completed grew to 90,513 — by far the most since the outbreak in late January.

The province says it hopes to build capacity for up to 50,000 tests daily by mid-October and 68,000 per day by mid-November.

The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued its slow but steady climb, increasing by seven up to 167. Thirty-eight of those people are being treated in intensive care units, and 21 are on ventilators.

The number of confirmed outbreaks in long-term care homes is now at 44.

RNAO calls for tighter restrictions

The Registered Nurses Association (RNAO) called on the provincial government Friday to immediately impose stricter public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

“Urgent action is needed to prevent a full lockdown later on. This is something we have implored government officials to do, but their actions are timid and ineffective,” said RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun in a statement posted online.

Grinspun adding that “the numbers will get much higher unless immediate action is taken to stem the rising tide.”

The letter urges the closure of bars, indoor dining, places of worship and gyms across the province.

Still have questions about COVID-19? These CBC News stories will help.

Will Ontario be able to track down everyone who came in contact with those who have COVID-19?

Doctors are warning the surge in cases will strain the contact-tracing system

Is another lockdown coming in Ontario? What do we know about the Ford government’s fall plan?

CBC Queen’s Park reporter Mike Crawley obtained a draft copy of the plan

What’s happening in Ontario schools and child-care centres?

The province just changed its rules around runny noses, and you see what schools have COVID-19 outbreaks on this provincial site

What’s the most recent guidance on mask use?

Reporter Lauren Pelley took a look at what the experts are advising

Who is getting COVID-19?

CBC News crunched the data from across Canada to get the clearest picture possible

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