'Nobody gets an exemption': OHA pleads for social distancing, staying home to save lives

'This is not a drill,' says OHA president. Critical care services could be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases in a few weeks "unless we all act now."

'Don't think only about yourself,' urges OHA president. 'It's not somebody else's problem'

President and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association Anthony Dale is urging everyone to avoid physical interaction with others to protect the healthcare system’s critical care capacity. (Submitted/OHA)

"Every single person" in this province needs to stay home and practice strict social distancing to help keep people alive, urges the president of the Ontario Hospital Association.

Critical care services could be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases in a few weeks "unless we all act now," said Anthony Dale, OHA president and CEO.

"This is not a drill. This is the single biggest public health emergency in Ontario's history," said Dale.

"People must take this seriously. Think about others. Don't think only about yourself."

'Don't go out unless you have to'

We are at a turning point in the fight against COVID-19, said Dale. The Ontario health ministry reported 59 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the provincial total to 377.

With tens of thousands of people returning home after March break, Dale said it's essential that everybody listen to public health experts — and "nobody gets an exemption."

"Stay at home. Wash your hands. Don't go out unless you have to," said Dale. 

There are about 2,000 critical care beds in Ontario, and the province is moving "heaven and earth" to try to find additional ventilators and supplies, he said.

Parents, friends will need hospitalization

The people who will need hospitalization will not be strangers, he said — they will be parents, grandparents, neighbours and friends.

"With too many patients and not enough beds ... you can imagine the result," he said, 

He pointed to Italy, where 4,825 people have died of COVID-19, after the death toll grew by 793 on Saturday.

In Ontario "we still have time," he said.

Individual actions 'will save lives'

Don't go out unless absolutely necessary, he said. Avoid interacting with others; don't go to the store; and wash your hands.

"Those individual steps, rest assured, will save lives," he said.

On a sunny weekend, people might be tempted to go window shopping or find a coffee.

"Don't do that," said Dale.

"Those kinds of individual choices do seriously run the risk of spreading COVID-19."

'It's not somebody else's problem'

This is a time where it's "up to the many to protect the lives of the few," he said — particularly the elderly, people with serious chronic conditions and people who are immune compromised.

"It's not somebody else's problem," he said.

Dale emphasized that we will only get through this by acting together; this is a historic moment where our decisions today matter.

"You can go about your regular routine sometime in the future," he said,

"Don't look away. Take responsibility."

With files from Angelina King