Ontario lowers thresholds, moves several regions to 'red zone'
TORONTO -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced that the province will lower the thresholds for its COVID-19 colour-coded system, putting additional regions in the "red zone," which will lower capacity limits for bars, restaurants and gyms.
The premier made the announcement at a news conference on Friday, a day after the province released new COVID-19 modelling, projecting that the province could see 6,500 new cases per day by mid-December.
"We need to be clear about what's at stake. We're staring down the barrel of another lockdown," Ford told reporters. "I will not hesitate for a second if we have to go further because our number one priority right now is getting these numbers down."
The government came under intense scrutiny from the province's medical community, which argued the threshold to enter the “red zone,” otherwise known as the "control" stage, was set too high – 100 cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 10 per cent.
The thresholds are now being changed, which means the “red zone” will be triggered when the region reaches a weekly incidence rate of 40 cases per 100,000.
The new threshold will push Halton Region, York Region, and Hamilton into the "red zone” starting Monday, which will lower capacity limits for bars, restaurants and gyms while allowing them to remain open, unless a local health officer says otherwise.
Peel Region was moved into the "red zone" last week and will be joined by Toronto on Saturday.
"We must do whatever it takes to slow the spread of this virus. We must do whatever it takes to stop our hospitals from being overrun. So we're here today to take action," Ford stated on Friday. "We need to be flexible. We must always be prepared to change course as the situation evolves."
According to recent provincial data, Toronto has a weekly incidence rate of 81 per 100,000, Halton has a rate of 56 per 100,000, York has a rate of 55 per 100,000 and Hamilton has a rate of 48 per 100,000.
Friday's announcement is in direct response to the new modelling data released by the government on Thursday, which showed Ontario could experience a dramatic rise in the daily case count.
The data also showed that within the next two weeks the province would likely exceed its intensive care threshold of 150 beds, under any potential scenario.
Other regions are also shifting from their original colour designation. Brant County, Durham Region, Niagara Region, Willington-Dufferin-Guelph Region and Waterloo will all move into the “orange” or “restrict zone,” in which indoor dining and gyms are allowed to reopen with slight modifications.
The weekly incidence rate in these regions must be between 25 to 39.9 cases per 100,000 people. The test positivity rate must be between 1.3 and 2.4 per cent, down from 2.5 and 9.9 per cent.
The Southwestern Public Health Unit, Huron Perth, Middlesex-London, Sudbury, Windsor-Essex will all be moving from the “green zone” to the “yellow" or “protect zone.”
In this category, the region will enhance targeted enforcement, fines and education to limit further transmission. Additional public health measures are required in high-risk settings, such as restaurants, gyms and movie theatres.
Regions placed in the protect category will now have a weekly incidence rate between 10 to 24.9 per 100,000 people. The test positivity rate must be between 0.5 and 1.2 per cent, down from 2.5 per cent.
“The modelling that I see now is not the modelling that I saw nine days ago. Nine days, ten days ago what I saw was anywhere from 950 to 1,200 cases,” Ford said on Friday. “I can assure you that if I saw 6,500 cases 10 days ago, I wouldn’t be out here today saying what we are saying.
“These adjustments, they are necessary to respond to the latest evidence and we may need to make further adjustments in the future.”
Ford advised residents who live in the “red zones” to limit trips outside their homes except for essential reasons and advised people to avoid visiting households outside of their own.
Ford said he’s asked Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams to take another “hard look at the restrictions, and come back next week with his advice if further steps are necessary.”
“We can change the course. We can bend the curve and get this virus under control. Each of us have a role to play. Every one of us has a role to play in preventing a lockdown, Ford said.
“We can't become complacent. We need to fight and continue fighting. Please don't lose hope.”