‘We’re heading to a place that is very bad’: Ontario announces 29 COVID-19 deaths as Mayor John Tory warns of increased restrictions

Ontario announced 29 COVID-19 deaths in one day on Sunday, as Mayor John Tory warned of possible increasing restrictions and epidemiological experts launched a social media campaign to bring case counts down to zero.

“We are working with health officials and the provincial government to determine what further action is needed to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our city and region,” said Tory, in response to questions from the Star on Sunday.

“I have been in conversations with public health officials, other mayors and the province all weekend and we expect those will continue into Monday.”

In an interview with CP24, the mayor added that officials are looking at places where crowds gather — for example, retailers who haven’t put limits on the number of people in their stores — as possible targets for improvement.

“We’re heading to a place that is very bad,” Tory said, referring to rising case counts, and adding that residents should be hoping for more restrictions, “in their own best interests.”

The 29 deaths were the most reported in the province since the first wave of the pandemic in June.

On Sunday, Premier Doug Ford urged people to limit non-essential trips outside of their home.

“As a result of rising COVID-19 numbers, I am asking everyone to limit their trips outside of the home, except essential reasons like going to work, school, getting groceries, or for medical appointments,” he tweeted. “Families should not allow visitors to their homes and avoid social gatherings.”

On Monday, Huron Perth, Middlesex-London, Sudbury, Southwestern Ontario and Windsor-Essex move to the yellow zone of the government’s new COVID-19 response framework, which means bars and restaurants will have to limit operating hours.

In Toronto, meanwhile, 10 deaths were recorded on Saturday and 12 deaths on Sunday. Ontario reported 1,248 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday with 44,837 tests conducted.

“The spread of COVID-19 has never been greater in Toronto,” said Toronto Public Health spokesperson Lenore Bromley, referencing remarks made last week by Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa.

Last week de Villa took extraordinary steps to reduce spread of the disease, invoking her powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to impose restrictions in addition to the ones outlined by the province under the current code-red designation for Toronto.

The provincial guidelines, introduced by Premier Doug Ford on Nov. 3, have been widely criticized as too permissive, and designed to serve business interests, not stem the transmission of the disease.

“In recent days we have seen the confirmed case counts rise to an alarming extent, and rise to more than 400 cases per day and three times, at or above 500 cases per day,” Bromley said.

Also on Sunday, a group of Toronto-area physicians and other experts launched a Twitter campaign, tagged #COVIDzero, aimed at encouraging Canadian governments to implement a world-class, test-trace-and-isolate support system. The campaign rose to #1 in Canada on Twitter, endorsed by numerous health care professionals.

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The group is also asking for support for those negatively impacted by the pursuit of eliminating COVID-19, for example, individuals and businesses facing a loss of income.

Dr. Andrew Morris said he and others decided to launch the campaign in light of repeated failures to control the spread of the virus.

“It seems to many of us that we’re no further ahead in many ways than we were with the first wave. We’re really in many ways in the exact same spot. We’re facing personal restrictions and public health measures that are going to be fairly restrictive because of a growth in cases,” said Morris, infectious diseases specialist, Sinai Health & University Health Networks.

Morris coined the #COVIDzero tag.

He said the cost of a proper test, trace and isolate program would be significantly less than the economic costs of another massive lockdown, and the cost of people becoming sick, being hospitalized and unable to work.

“Even if we act aggressively and we’re at 1,200 cases a day right now, it’s going to be about two weeks before we get that to 600, and then another two weeks ‘til we get to 300 cases a day and then another two to 150,” said Morris, who is also a professor at University of Toronto.

“I don’t want anyone to be under any illusions. The path ahead one way or another — no matter what we’re going to be doing — it is going to be a difficult path ahead.”

COVID-19 biostatistician Ryan Imgrund says Ontario is not doing enough testing.

New York State, for example, has a population that is about one-third greater than Ontario, but is running 200,000 tests a day, or about five times the number of tests being conducted Ontario, according to Imgrund.

He said the 29 deaths in the province is the highest number recorded since June 6, when there were 37 deaths reported. Imgrund calculates his figures based on reports from individual public health units, not number supplied by the province, which are lagging.

At the end of May, the province was averaging 20-30 deaths a day, and Imgrund believes the numbers are headed in that direction again.

His modelling predicts 463 deaths between November 15 and December 15, an average of 15 a day.

He pegs the reproductive rate of the virus in Ontario at 1.1, which means the number of cases is doubling roughly every 30 days.

Francine Kopun

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