Ont. premier says 'everything is on the table' amid rising COVID-19 cases but won't commit to tighter lockdown

As Ontario's hospitals called for new 28-day lockdowns for regions in the red zone, the strictest level of COVID-19 restrictions, amid record-high case counts and hospitalizations Thursday, Premier Doug Ford would not commit to any new shutdowns.  

Hospital association urges wider lockdowns as new daily cases hit 2,432 Thursday

Surgical oncologists Dr. Usmaan Hameed, right, and Dr. Peter Stotland, left, walk to the operating room at North York General Hospital on May 26, 2020.
Hospitals are quickly becoming overwhelmed as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Ontario, the province's hospital association said Thursday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

As Ontario's hospitals called for new 28-day lockdowns in the province's COVID-19 red zones Thursday amid record-high case counts and hospitalizations, Premier Doug Ford would not commit to any new shutdowns. 

"Ontario remains firmly caught in the grasp of a major second wave of COVID-19," the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) said in a statement. "Daily infection is now above 2,000 new cases per day. Hospitalization is increasing rapidly, as is the occupancy of intensive care units."

It said that the situation has become "extremely serious."

The OHA's board of directors held an emergency meeting to discuss ongoing challenges to the health-care system on Wednesday, a day before the province reported another 2,432 cases of COVID-19, the most on a single day since the pandemic began. 

"We are now in the holiday season and if members of the public choose to ignore public health measures and gather outside their households, the consequences risk overwhelming Ontario's hospitals," the statement continued.

'Everything is on the table'

As a result, the OHA said it must "reluctantly and with deep regret" ask the provincial government to "implement and robustly enforce" four-week lockdowns in all public health units where the weekly incidence rate is 40 cases per 100,000 people or more, a key threshold for the red tier, the strictest level of pandemic restrictions. 

But at the province's daily news conference Thursday, the premier would not commit to any further lockdown measures.

Ford said he appreciates the OHA's input and talks to hospital CEOs every day.

"It's very, very concerning, the situation we're facing right now," he said. "Right now, everything is on the table. We always take the advice from the medical experts."

Ford said he was not considering any sort of curfew like the ones imposed in France and other countries particularly hard hit by the virus. 

However, when asked about specific decisions the government is considering to stem the tide of cases, Ford repeatedly answered "everything is on the table."

Lockdown request comes amid record hospitalizations

The OHA's request for additional lockdowns comes as hospitalization figures in Ontario reached second-wave highs this week. The OHA said that its member hospitals are struggling to keep up with current needs while working to catch up on about 150,000 procedures that were postponed during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring. 

"Evidence is mounting that the hidden toll on human health from this disruption in scheduled services will be heavy," the statement said. "Our communities are tired, and so are those caring for them."

The provincial government should also offer paid sick leave and isolation accommodation to help those who cannot afford to take time off work if they contract the novel coronavirus, the OHA added.

The premier was asked Thursday if he was considering any financial compensation if further lockdowns are imposed. Ford said the province is working with the federal government to make sure people are taken care of.

"If that time comes, if we have to take further action ... yes, there will be additional forms of assistance for small business owners," he said.

WATCH | Premier Doug Ford on the prospect of further lockdowns:

Ontario premier says 'everything on the table' to control surging COVID-19 numbers

3 years ago
Duration 1:35
There are many things to consider before Ontario will tighten its lockdown of the province to slow the spread of the coronavirus, said Premier Doug Ford. But he said he will not make a 'snap' judgment about which course to take.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said he was having "vibrant discussions" with regions currently in the red and grey zones.

Williams said all the red-zone regions are seeing a rise in cases, but he would not say if further restrictions would be put in place.

"We have to take a look at what we can do and who else should be involved in that ... all things are on the table," Williams said, echoing Ford's earlier comments.

Government did not prepare for 2nd wave: Horwath

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government did not prepare for the second wave of the pandemic and should now consider the hospital association's plan.

"Doug Ford chose not to invest in stronger public health measures," she said in statement. "And now, we're facing a longer, deeper and darker lockdown as a result."

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said Ford should take further actions to address the pandemic, including introducing paid sick days and additional financial support of up to $15,000 per small business in lockdown areas.

"Doug Ford has said repeatedly that he will spare no expense," Schreiner said in a statement. "So, I'm calling on him now to put action behind his words. Now is the time to work across party lines to save lives and livelihoods while reducing stress on our health-care system."

Speaking to reporters at Queen's Park, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the provincial government is working with the OHA and is "very aware" of its concerns. Continued community spread of the virus, particularly in hot spots, is putting strain on hospitals, she said.

"Many hospitals are at full capacity now and have had to postpone, once again, surgeries and procedures that were postponed during wave one," Elliott said.

"We're considering everything, the best ways to limit community spread, so I would say that nothing has been determined as yet."

Yesterday, the mayors of two of Ontario's hardest-hit cities, Toronto and Mississauga in Peel Region, called for strict measures to remain in place throughout the holiday season. This Friday marks four weeks since Toronto and Peel first went into lockdown, while York Region and Windsor-Essex moved into lockdown later. 

Nearly all of the rest of southern Ontario's largest cities, with the exception of Ottawa, are in the red zone. That includes Hamilton, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, Oakville, Oshawa and Barrie. 

Record day for new COVID-19 cases

The additional 2,432 COVID-19 cases reported Thursday include 737 in Toronto, 434 in Peel Region, 209 in York Region, 190 in Windsor-Essex, 142 in Hamilton and 102 in Halton Region. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Waterloo Region: 77
  • Durham Region: 73
  • Ottawa: 70
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 65
  • Middlesex-London: 63
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 47
  • Niagara Region: 45
  • Southwestern: 35
  • Brant County: 26
  • Eastern Ontario: 19
  • Huron Perth: 17
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington: 16
  • Lambton: 11

(Note: All of the figures used for new cases in this story are found on the Ontario Health Ministry's COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit because local units report figures at different times.)

Combined, the new cases push the seven-day average to 2,026, also a new high.

The Ministry of Education also reported 170 new cases that are school-related: 143 students, 26 staff members and one person who was not identified. Some 955 of Ontario's 4,828 publicly funded schools, or about 19.8 per cent, have at least one case of COVID-19, while 22 schools are currently closed because of the illness.

There are now 17,484 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 throughout Ontario, the most-ever in the province. They come as the province's network of labs processed 58,178 test samples for the novel coronavirus and reported a test positivity rate of four per cent. 

While the number of total patients in Ontario hospitals with the virus dropped slightly to 919, down 13 from 932, the number being treated in intensive care units jumped seven to 263. Of those, 172 required the use of a ventilator — 15 more than in yesterday's report.

New long-term care spending announced

At the height of the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, hospitalizations topped out at 1,043, while ICU admissions peaked at 264, according to the Ministry of Health.

Public health officials also reported 23 more deaths of people with COVID-19, bringing Ontario's official toll to 4,058.

Ford also announced Thursday the province plans to spend up to $1.9 billion annually by 2024-25 to achieve an average of four hours of daily direct care in the province's long-term care homes.

That would mean the hiring of 27,000 new personal support workers, registered nurses and other health-care staff, he said.

Ford also provided an update on vaccinations, saying that to date, 1,500 health-care workers have had their first vaccine dose in Toronto and Ottawa.

At least 80 inmates in Kingston prison test positive

Correctional Service Canada is reporting a major COVID-19 outbreak in a Kingston prison.

The department says at least 80 inmates at the Joyceville Institution have tested positive for COVID-19.

All staff and employees have been offered testing for the novel coronavirus, and the agency says it is closely monitoring the situation.

It also says all employees are actively screened before entering its institutions.

Correctional Service Canada says all employees and inmates have been given medical masks and face shields.

With files from Lucas Powers, Adam Carter, Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press