Stay-at-home order is 'very necessary' to stop COVID-19: Hamilton medical officer of health
Mayor says 'stay within your own household as much as you can, other than essentials'
The city of Hamilton is awaiting more detail about how it will enforce Ontario's 28-day stay-at-home order that comes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, drawing questions from residents and councillors.
But Mayor Fred Eisenberger says it comes down to personal responsibility and breaking it down to simple rules.
"Stay within your own household as much as you can, other than essentials, and those essentials are work, getting groceries, medical appointments and beyond that, stay within your own household," he told reporters on Wednesday.
"Can you go to spend some time outdoors? Of course you can, as long as you maintain physical distancing and masking, the opportunity is there. Should you go out and socialize with your whole family at this point? No."
Questions about the updated COVID-19 rules
But councillors during a Wednesday General Issues Committee meeting asked Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, and Paul Johnson, the director of the city's emergency operations centre, about how to navigate some of the new rules.
Johnson prefaced the questions with a caveat.
"There is a lag time in us getting the actual written documents which would allow us to give clear and sharp answers to the questions that come in, so please bear with us," he said.
Johnson also said later in the afternoon during a media briefing, while still waiting for answers, that all counters and public areas to do business with the city will be closed starting Thursday. Everyone who can work from home must do so.
Here are some of questions and answers from the morning meeting and afternoon media briefing:
How will the stay-at-home order be enforced?
Johnson says the city is waiting on details from the province, but says while it isn't a curfew, it also isn't guidance anymore.
"I think that it's very much going to follow what we've been seeing throughout this pandemic where the role of bylaw is to proactively, in some cases, seek out that behaviour which is clearly outside these broad public health and business-related guidelines."
When asked if going out to a local restaurant for takeout food would be deemed against the rules, Johnson said he wasn't sure but predicted it wouldn't be.
Ward 7 Coun. Esther Pauls said the province's new rules are confusing, contradictory and seem complicated to enforce.
"If I go out, and somebody stops me and says, 'Where are you going?' I could say, 'I'm going to the grocery store' … how can they enforce that, even if the people aren't going there?" she asked.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger said police would be part of the enforcement but it won't lead to more officers being deployed. People experiencing homelessness also won't be subject to the order.
Richardson said the order is still a "very necessary" step because the city is at a "tipping point."
Is there a limit to the number of people tobogganing? Will parks and playgrounds be open?
There is a five-person limit to social gatherings and 10-person limit for weddings, funerals and religious services, but tobogganing is an outdoor activity which means people just need to stay distanced, Johnson says. Councillors said the rules seem confusing, but Johnson said "the rules are set for us, not by us."
Johnson also said in the afternoon that tobogganing is allowed for exercise purposes, not as an opportunity to gab with others and be part of a large social gathering.
Playgrounds and parks will stay open, Johnson said.
Can you still employ house cleaners?
Johnson and Richardson said they weren't sure and would wait for the province's official documents about the stay-at-home order.
What are we doing about big-box stores and their advantage over small businesses? And what about gathering at big-box stores?
Johnson said both big-box stores and small businesses have to follow provincially-mandated capacity rules and curbside pickup. Johnson said there will be enforcement if needed. Richardson said there's no evidence right now to add more restrictions in place for gathering there.
How do the lockdowns affect construction?
Most construction is allowed to continue, but the city is still waiting on more specific detail.
Where can residents access emergency food services?
Johnson said that is an essential service, so it will stay open and people can go out to get supplies from food banks.
What are we doing about the lack of paid sick leave?
The barriers put in place for people, like financial issues, are causing people to go to work sick or with symptoms, both Johnson and Richardson said.
"We do see this being a factor that supports transmission," she said.
Ward 9 Coun. Brad Clark said it may be worth the city asking the province to change the system and provide paid sick leave.
"It frustrates me immensely," he said.
Are hospital executives getting vaccinated instead of front-line workers?
Richardson said health-care facilities are following the eligibility criteria for vaccination and said there are times when not everyone shows up for vaccination clinics.
"There is a backup list of people who can come quickly to be vaccinated and at the end of the day, if they weren't able to reach those people, then there are still doses they may give," she said.
Richardson said 800 people have been vaccinated from mobile clinics, which visited three long-term care homes and high-risk retirement homes. She added 7,500 people have been vaccinated from the fixed site at Hamilton Health Sciences, which is vaccinating health-care workers.
The team is hoping to finish vaccinating people by Jan. 18. It will see 4,900 residents in 37 homes, Richardson said.
Today, the team is at Wentworth Heights and on Thursday they will be at Grace Villa and Arbour Creek.
Richardson is hoping the Moderna vaccine will be ready for use by the end of next week.
Why are schools in Halton with Hamilton students open, but Hamilton schools closed?
Richardson said it's a "very difficult" balancing act and said it was a provincial decision made after seeking out advice from experts.
New website to help small businesses access money
Flamborough-Glanbrook PC MPP Donna Skelly is encouraging Hamilton small businesses to apply for various grants through a new website to make funding during the pandemic more accessible.
She described it as a "one-stop-shop" for business owners.
The applications open on Friday.
Skelly said the turnaround time is roughly two weeks.
The programs don't tackle insurance issues some businesses have faced. She also realizes not all businesses will survive.
"We've run out of the vaccines, so businesses are going to continue to hurt."
158 new cases in Hamilton
Hamilton Public Health Services is reporting 158 new cases.
There are 1,111 people in the city with the virus according to data on the city website. There are 34 outbreaks in the city, eight of which are in hospitals.
The weekly rate of new cases per 100,000 people is at 148 and the reproduction number is 1.16 (which is the average number of people a COVID-positive person will infect). Six per cent of test results are coming back positive, which stunts effective contact tracing. There are no signs of COVID-19 variants in the city yet, Richardson said.
A total of 7,720 people have been infected and 6,147 cases have been resolved. Public health has recorded 206 deaths of people who had the virus.
Hospitals running out of ICU space
Beds in local intensive care units are scarce with Hamilton Health Sciences saying it is near or at capacity. Provincial data showed on Tuesday there were only two beds left in the HHS system.
"We do have some beds available to meet our regional/community obligations/needs. In accordance with Ministry direction, we are prepared to make available 15 per cent of inpatient capacity in the event of a surge in COVID cases," read a statement from spokesperson Wendy Stewart.
"Overall hospital occupancy remains very high, including critical care. We are working with our hospital partners locally, regionally and provincially as directed by government to support care for all patients."
St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton said as of Wednesday at noon, it had seven people in its ICU unit and 47 beds are in use. Spokesperson Elaine Mitropoulos say it still has critical care capacity and acute care capacity.
"Fortunately, we have not been required to go over capacity. As always, our team is prepared with staffing strategies, physical bed space, equipment and supplies to do so," she wrote.
As of Wednesday, 115 people are in hospital with COVID-19 in Hamilton.
The County of Brant is reporting 150 active cases. The local public health website shows there have been 1,183 cases reported since March. Of those 24 were reported yesterday. A total of six people who have had the virus in the county have died. Two people are in the hospital and 1,027 cases have been resolved.
There are 185 people in Haldimand and Norfolk counties with COVID-19 according to data on Wednesday from local public health. A total of 1,138 cases have been reported and 36 deaths are considered to be related to COVID-19.
Halton public health saw 94 new cases on Wednesday. There are 624 active cases and have been 7,219 cumulative cases. There have also been 6,459 resolved cases and 136 deaths.
Niagara has seen 5,979 COVID-19 cases since March. Of those 1,491 are active, 4,283 are resolved and 205 people have died. The region has 47 outbreaks.