As Toronto enters the COVID-19 red zone here's what you need to know
TORONTO -- As new cases of COVID-19 reach levels never before seen in Toronto, the city has taken it upon itself to implement new restrictions that go beyond the province’s colour-coded lockdown system.
On Tuesday, the city’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa announced that she would enact enhanced measures in an effort to keep residents safe, but that would also force many businesses to stay closed.
"I want to warn you in the plainest possible terms, COVID-19 is out there at levels that we have not seen before," she said as the city reported a record 533 new cases of the disease.
"You should assume it is everywhere."
Toronto was originally set to enter the “orange” zone of the framework on Saturday, which would see the resumption of indoor dining with stringent measures in place, but de Villa said the risk of COVID-19 spread is too great to allow that to happen.
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Instead, de Villa is now recommending that Toronto be placed in the “red” zone -- which the province has already approved -- on that date with extra measures in effect for at least 28 days.
Here’s what that will look like:
Restaurants and bars
Indoor dining at Toronto’s restaurants and bars will remain closed until at least Dec. 12.
Under the province’s COVID-19 Response Framework, the “red” or “control” level permits indoor dining up to 10 people, but the city’s “specific enhanced measures” prohibit it.
Outdoor dining, take-out, drive-thru and delivery are still allowed under both the province’s framework and de Villa’s specific measures.
All establishments must close at 10 p.m. and liquor can only be sold or served between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Gyms and fitness studios
There’s some leeway for gyms and fitness studios. While indoor group fitness classes remain off limits under de Villa’s orders, facilities can reopen with a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, according to the province.
As well, team sports must not be practiced or played except for training (no games or scrimmage).
Face coverings are required inside any facility, except when exercising.
Meeting and event spaces
While the Ontario government’s framework allows for the reopening of meeting and event spaces with certain health measures in place in the “red” zone, de Villa’s orders do not.
As such, all meeting and event spaces in Toronto must remain closed until mid-December.
Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments
Much like meeting and event spaces, most of the province's casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments are allowed to reopen with 10 people per facility indoors and 25 people outdoors under the province’s framework.
However, these facilities’ must remain closed under de Villa’s orders.
"I recognize that these actions will have economic impacts and I am truly sorry for this. I really am,” de Villa said. “However, in my professional opinion the greatest harm would be to allow COVID-19 to continue to spread at this rate."
What happens if someone breaks these rules?
The penalty for a person or corporation caught breaking any of the above rules are stiff.
Enforceable under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act, Section 22 stipulates that anyone who is guilty of an offence under the act will be subject to a “fine of not more than $5,000 for every day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues.”
Corporations face an even bigger penalty for rule breaking. The law states that the penalty for every day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues is a maximum $25,000.
What else did de Villa say?
Toronto’s top doctor also laid out a number of other public health measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, including restrictions on social gatherings, religious services and workplaces.
All social gatherings, according to de Villa, must be limited to members of the same household and/or one or two essential supports (someone who is essential to maintaining physical and mental health).
Residents are instructed to restrict their close contacts to their immediate household and refrain from visiting private homes, unless for emergency reasons, one-on-one teaching (e.g., tutoring), emergency repairs, renovations or construction.
In-person activities outside the home should be limited to essential activities only.
For religious services, including wedding and funerals, capacity indoors must be limited to 30 per cent to a maximum of 50 people.
Working from home should be promoted wherever possible, according to Toronto Public Health.
Offices and other workplaces are required to have a compliance officer to ensure the “implementation of occupational health and safety and infection prevention and control measures.”
Businesses are also asked to review HVAC systems to ensure they are in good working order.
The province’s red category is a little more lenient on all categories listed above and allows for social gatherings of 10 people indoors with masks and 25 people outdoors.
Gatherings for religious services, weddings and funerals are capped at 30 per cent indoors and 100 people outdoors.
Employers are asked to restrict non-essential travel for employees from areas of high transmission to areas of low transmission.
Are these rules enforceable as well?
While these recommendations are not enforceable by law, de Villa is strongly suggesting that they are observed.
“My expectation are that these measures can interrupt COVID-19,” she said. “It takes you to do these things to make it harder for COVID to spread.”
Is Toronto the only region adopting extra measures?
Aside from Toronto, Peel Region has also been contributing greatly to Ontario’s overall COVID-19 case count in recent weeks.
The region recorded 468 new infections Wednesday, 84 more than Toronto.
Last Saturday, new measures took effect that limited indoor seating at bars, restaurants and other food establishments to people from the same household.
Wedding receptions and associated gatherings are not allowed as of 12:01 a.m. Nov. 13 until at least Jan. 7, 2021 and gyms and fitness centres must make sure all fitness class participants pre-register and provide accurate contact information to help with contact tracing if there is an exposure.
Peel’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh ordered the enhanced restrictions that took effect Monday morning while underscoring the importance of limiting social gatherings.
“The biggest thing we all need to do at this point in time is really limit the number of in-person interactions that were having outside the household,” Loh said on Monday.
What does the premier think?
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has long said that the new framework offers a guideline for the province’s 34 public health units and encouraged regions to add additional measures as they see fit.
Ford welcomed the news from Toronto on Wednesday morning while highlighting that different areas of the province have different needs.
“The only way we’re going to be able to beat this folks is by a targeted approach and what is good for Toronto isn’t always good for Peel or good for York, but what our framework does is it creates a baseline,” he said.
“I’ve always said no one knows their area better than the local medical officer of health, the local mayor, the local MPs and MPPs and councilors. We’re going to take a targeted approach moving forward.”