Toronto mayor says stricter mask rules, closing times may be 'trade-offs' for indoor dining to resume
TORONTO -- Stricter guidelines for wearing masks inside restaurants and earlier closing times are some of the "trade-offs” this city is considering in order to safely reopen indoor dining rooms in Toronto, Mayor John Tory said Friday.
Bars and restaurants in Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa were forced to halt indoor dining on Oct. 10 when the Ontario government reverted the three regions back to a modified version of Stage 2 for 28 days.
The 28-day period will expire on Nov. 7 but Premier Doug Ford has not yet indicated if the government plans to extend or ease the restrictions in the three COVID-19 hot spots.
Tory said while the city's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, has not yet formally provided advice to him about whether these establishments should reopen their indoor spaces next weekend, he said they are having discussions about a "doors open safely" approach that will allow these businesses to reopen with more stringent public health requirements.
"There must be ways in which we can have gyms and restaurants and other businesses open and go about a slightly more normal way of life," Tory said.
The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario has continued to climb in recent weeks, hitting a record 899 on Thursday.
The province also released new modelling data on Thursday that suggests Ontario will continue to see high COVID-19 case counts through most of November.
"In light of these projections, which say it (COVID-19) is going to be with us for a while yet, we have to find a way to live in the meantime and live safely," Tory said.
He said when restaurants and bars are given the green light to reopen indoor spaces, they may be required to enforce stricter rules around mask-wearing.
"Aside from the fact of when you are taking a sip or when you are taking a bite, you have the mask on. So while you are waiting for your food, while you are looking at the menu, all those times, you keep it on," he said. "If people say they want the restaurants open… You have the trade-off of having masks on more often."
The mayor noted that the city could also require restaurants and bars to shut down earlier in an effort to curb drinking later into the evening.
"I know the restaurants want to stay open as long as they can to do business to recover, but it may well be that we have to have an earlier closing time," he said.
"The earlier closing time is so that the late night drinking that you get, which then causes people to take off their mask, is not as likely to occur."
Bars and restaurants in the city are currently required to stop serving alcohol by 11 p.m. and must close by midnight.
The city's medical officer of health urged the province to suspend indoor dining last month after she said 44 per cent of outbreaks in the city over a one-week period were tied to bars and restaurants.
Tory said the city is trying to come up with the right strategy so as not to "erode public confidence."
"I think it is very important to maintain public confidence," he said.
"I think public confidence will erode if people think the rules are being applied unfairly or don’t have any sense to them, but it will erode even more quickly if people think the rules that are put in place are leading to an increase in the spread of the virus. That’s the one thing people don’t want us to do is to open things up too fast, which we saw in the United States."
While Tory has said he will respect the advice given to him by de Villa and Ontario’s top public health doctor, politicians in other municipalities have been more vocal in their opposition to some of the restrictions imposed by the province.
Speaking to CP24 on Thursday, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown argued that the data on COVID-19 outbreaks doesn't support the closure of indoor dining rooms in Peel Region.
"Restaurants were doing their job. They were following the advice of public health," Brown said.
"If the data supports it, then yes, shut it down. But in the case of restaurants and recreation, it really wasn't supported by data."