In response to surging COVID-19 cases, Ontario is revising its virus response framework and moving several health regions into more restricted levels.
In consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and the Public Health Measures Table, the government announced it is lowering the thresholds for each level in the Keeping Ontario Safe and Open Framework.
The updates will help limit the spread of COVID-19 while keeping schools open, maintaining health system capacity, protecting the province’s most vulnerable, and avoiding broader lockdowns.
Details were provided Friday at a press conference by Premier Doug Ford, Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.
“Our number one priority right now is getting the numbers down and keeping people safe,” said Ford. “These adjustments are necessary to respond to the latest evidence we’re seeing and we are prepared to make further adjustments as the health experts continue to review the current public health restrictions.”
“We must do whatever it takes to stop our hospitals from being overwhelmed and protect our most vulnerable.”
The province says the latest modelling shows that if the number of new cases continues to grow at its current rate, Ontario could register up to 6,500 new cases per day by mid-December.
Within the next two weeks the province will likely exceed its intensive care threshold of 150 beds, under any potential scenario.
The changes to the framework are in response to the current data and trends, and will lower the threshold for each of the five colour-coded levels for weekly incidence rates, positivity rate, effective reproductive number, outbreak trends, and the level of community transmission.
“Over the last week we have seen an alarming shift in the trends of key public health indicators in regions across the province,” said Minister Elliott. “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, and our government’s response must evolve with it.”
Based on these new thresholds, the province is moving multiple public health unit regions to more restrictive levels of the framework.
Starting at 12:01 am on Monday, November 16, Hamilton, Halton, Peel, and York will be moved into the red “control zone.”
Toronto will move into the red on November 14, and will face additional restrictions imposed by the city’s top doctor, Eileen de Villa. They include closing indoor dining, fitness classes, and cinemas, and reducing gatherings to just immediate households with one or two essential supports.
The red category allows for indoor dining at bars and restaurants but with a strict capacity limit of 10 people indoors. It also limits capacity in gyms to 10 people inside and prohibits movie theatres from operating.
However, the guidelines are a baseline that local officers of health can change, as in Toronto.
Brant, Durham, Eastern Ontario, Niagara, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, and Waterloo will be moved into the orange “restrict” zone.
Several health units will be moved into the yellow “protect” zone, including Huron Perth, Middlesex-London, Sudbury, Southwestern Ontario, Huron Perth, and Windsor-Essex.
The areas will stay in the new levels for a minimum of 28 days before the situation is reassessed. Movement to a more restrictive zone will be considered sooner if there are rapidly worsening trends.