What Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex need to move to Stage 2 of Ontario's COVID-19 reopening plan
'I just hope we can open up as quickly as possible,' Premier Doug Ford says
Premier Doug Ford is sending some optimistic signals to the three public health units that have yet to be approved for Stage 2 of Ontario's COVID-19 reopening plan.
Toronto, Peel region and Windsor-Essex are the only parts of the province that stay at Stage 1 as of Friday, which means patio dining, barber shops and shopping malls remain shut down.
Elsewhere in the province, more businesses are opening their doors and more people are going back to work, Ford said during his news briefing Wednesday, then added, "All of Ontario will join them very soon."
The province will announce next Monday whether those areas get the go-ahead for Stage 2. It is not certain all will, although there are strong signs that the key measure of new cases is headed in the right direction for both Toronto and Peel region.
"We're going to take the advice of the chief medical officer and the health table," Ford said. "I just hope we can open up as quickly as possible."
Here's a look at the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in each area, and what has to happen for each to move to the next stage of easing restrictions.
"I am heartened by the way the indicators are going," said Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa in a news conference Wednesday..
"We continue to move in the right direction. Our new case counts and new hospitalizations are decreasing each day."
Toronto Public Health bases its progress in containing COVID-19 on data about the spread of the virus, as well as the capacity of the lab testing, hospital and public health systems. The latter two are classed as green, indicating that the goals of keeping hospital beds free and quickly tracing contacts of new cases are being met.
There are also strong positive signs about the number of new cases daily. The city's target is a consistent 14-day decline in the number of new cases, and it seems that goal is in sight.
The trend that Toronto monitors — what's called a seven-day moving average of new cases — has moved downward every day from June 1 to June 13, the latest date in the city's official statistics.
Barring an unexpected spike in the next few days, that trend looks set to continue downward, because the city has reported fewer than 100 new cases every day since June 12.
The measure that is the furthest from success for Toronto is the processing time for laboratory tests. Only 24 per cent of results are being communicated to Toronto Public Health within 24 hours of a test, while the goal is to hit that time target with at least 60 per cent of tests.
The lab turnaround time needs "significant improvement," but it is a provincial responsibility that is out of Toronto Public Health's control, de Villa said. She also said falling short on this measure would not necessarily stop Toronto from moving to stage 2.
"I don't think we will hang things up on a single or even two indicators," said de Villa. "It is the sum total and the complete picture that actually is relevant in terms of making the decision."
Relative to its population, the region encompassing Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon has been nearly as hard-hit by COVID-19 as Toronto. Peel region has reported more than 5,500 cases and 307 deaths.
After staying stubbornly high through late May, Peel's recent figures show the key indicator — the number of new cases daily — has been dropping since early June. The region has not reported more than 50 cases on a single day since June 6, and has reported fewer than 40 cases every day since June 8.
Peel region's latest epidemiological report shows one key indicator in red status, for a target not being met: the occupancy rate of its hospitals. Some 88 per cent of the acute-care beds in Brampton and Mississauga are in use, above the province's 85 per cent benchmark for allowing normal resumption of hospital activities, such as non-emergency surgeries.
Despite that, Peel could still get the go-ahead next Monday for a Stage 2 reopening, as other measures are trending in the right direction.
"I was pleased with how the community reacted to remaining in Stage 1," Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown told a news conference on Wednesday.
"I think there's an appreciation that public health comes first. I had spoken to the premier a number of times that we did not want to rush the reopening."
Whether Windsor-Essex will be authorized to move to Stage 2 on Monday remains far from clear.
Unlike Toronto and Peel, where the new case numbers are clearly on the decline, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has reported an increase in recent days. However, the spike is primarily contained to outbreaks at eight agricultural workplaces in Leamington and Kingsville.
"I am hearing from a lot of businesspeople, a lot of members in the community saying, 'We want to move to Stage 2. Why are we being held back?'" Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens told CBC News.
A mobile testing centre set up by a Leamington hospital closed after testing only one-tenth of the estimated 8,000 migrant farm workers in the region. Many workers were reluctant to be tested because they feared losing pay if they test positive, said one farm owner who pledged to pay his workers regardless of their COVID-19 status.
Local medical officers of health have the power to maintain some restrictions regardless of the province authorizing a move to Stage 2, Ford said in his news conference.
"Even if we give them the green light, if they want to continue to keep the shops closed, that's going to be up to them," said Ford.
Twenty-four public health units moved to Stage 2 on June 12. Durham, Haldimand-Norfolk, Halton, Hamilton, Lambton, Niagara and York are to join them on Friday.