Toronto's top doctor says city not ready for red zone, but outdoor dining and fitness classes should be permitted
TORONTO -- Toronto’s top public health official says that the “data does not support” moving the city into the less restrictive red zone but she says that discussions are taking place with the province about loosening restrictions to allow things like patio dining and outdoor fitness classes.
Restaurants and bars are limited to takeout and delivery only and outdoor gatherings are capped at 10 people in public health units that have been placed in the province’s strictest category for COVID-19 restrictions but Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that she would support changes to the framework to allow more “outdoor-focused activities,” including patio dining.
De Villa, however, said that she will not “support the kind of reopening that would be provided for under the red zone designation” right now, given the recent uptick in cases in the city.
“Everyone sees the exhaustion within the city as it relates to all the limitations COVID-19 has forced upon us. This is understandable and inevitable. This is why modest steps forward in the realm of outdoor activity are a good proving ground at this time,” she said.
“If in the window of the next few weeks the data indicates course corrections are necessary than course corrections can be made.”
Toronto’s rolling seven-day average of new cases now stands at 401, up from 369 at this time last week.
There have also been nearly 4,000 cases that have screened positive for variants of concern in Toronto amid concerns that we could be at the beginning of a third wave brought about largely by the presence of the more infectious B.1.1.7 variant that first originated in the United Kingdom.
“When I look at our numbers, I wish I could tell you that the pressure was completely off our healthcare system and that we needn’t worry any further but unfortunately that is not the case,” de Villa said on Wednesday.
De Villa said that she has been engaged in discussions with her provincial counterpart Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams about permitting additional outdoor activities while keeping Toronto in the grey lockdown zone.
She said that those discussions have “primarily” been focused on outdoor dining and outdoor fitness classes but she said that she would not rule out further changes to allow other activities, given the much lower risk of transmission outdoors.
Her advocacy in favour of loosening restrictions to allow things like outdoor dining comes hours after a similar plea by Peel Region’s medical officer of health.
Dr. Lawrence Loh told reporters at a briefing at Brampton city hall earlier on Wednesday that the “the uptick in our current viral picture does not support further reopening at this time.”
But he said that he also has to consider “community health and wellbeing overall,” as well as the lower risk of transmitting the virus outdoors.
For that reason, he said that he is engaged in “active discussions” with the province about changes that could pave the way for more outdoor activities in Peel.
“In considering our unique community context, we are currently having active discussions that are exploring if we can maintain some of the protections afforded by the current measures in force in Peel while considering adjustments particularly where there is an opportunity to leverage the outdoors for things such as dining and fitness,” he said.
“I want to stress that the discussions are still active and continuing. These are not final decisions and ultimately the province will make a decision as to where Peel lands.”
Both Peel and Toronto were moved into the grey zone earlier this month, following the lifting of the stay-at-home orders in those communities.
In the grey zone, many business remain closed, including barbers and gyms, but non-essential retail stores can operate at 25 per cent capacity.
The City of Toronto has already opened applications for its CafeTO program in anticipation of public health restrictions eventually being lifted to permit patio dining and Mayor John Tory has said in the past that he was optimistic that some on-street patios could be installed prior to the Victoria Day long weekend.
“We are looking for ways that we can identify things that are a possibility to do. You know less to do with colour codes and more just to do with the reality of what people face in their lives,” Tory told reporters on Wednesday.
“So there is nothing that has been decided, there are not things that have been given a green light by anybody but we are in discussions on all kinds of things that could be safe and realistic.”