Toronto officials urge province to extend lockdown but reopen outdoor facilities

City officials say much more work needs to be done before easing lockdown restrictions and public health guidelines.

More than 1.4 million doses have been administered in Toronto as of Monday

A man shoots baskets alone on an outdoor basketball court in Toronto on Monday, May 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

More than half of adults in Toronto have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but officials are urging the province to extend it stay-at-home order until cases drop further.

If the city continues its nearly six-month lockdown, new cases will plunge to about 400 a day, said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health. 

But if Toronto opens up on May 20, when the province's stay-at-home order is set to expire, new cases will continue to hover around 800, putting the city on track for a fourth wave, de Villa warned. 

"We have seen what happens when we rush to reopen," de Villa told reporters Monday. "It always leads us to a resurgence of daily illness, hospitalizations and ultimately deaths."

She urged the province to extend restrictions, which it is likely to do. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Monday "we need to stay the course for right now."

Before lifting restrictions, new cases provincewide need to be below 1,000 a day, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams told reporters. The province reported 2,716 new cases on Monday.

Mayors in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area have asked the province to provide more details as soon as possible about whether the stay-at-home order will be extended beyond May 20. 

"As the Victoria Day long weekend approaches, people and businesses have begun to ask perfectly reasonable questions as to where things will stand as of that time, so they can make plans of all kinds, business and pleasure," their statement said Monday. 

The city is also calling on the province to reopen outdoor recreation amenities, first closed in April to much criticism. Elliott has previously stated there's no plans to change the rules around tennis courts or golf courses until cases significantly decline.

"This is a subject constantly being discussed by people in Toronto Public Health," de Villa said.

The outdoors and warm weather are allies in helping people improve their mental and physical health in a way that reduces the spread of COVID-19, she said.

'Signs for cautious optimism'

Toronto's daily average of new COVID-19 cases was 843 over the weekend, as well as 1,095 hospitalizations and 269 patients moved into intensive care. Thirty-seven more people died. 

Still, the city's data shows "some signs of improvement," said de Villa. Throughout April, daily cases consistently topped 1,000. 

"We are starting to see signs for cautious optimism with small decreases in case numbers." 

Officials say the GTA  is ramping up for its busiest vaccination week so far. 

"This is a non-stop effort," Mayor John Tory said. "It's about saving lives and getting life back to normal. It's about hope, summer, jobs, family and good health." 

With "laser focus" the city is looking at hitting its next target: 65 per cent of all adults receiving their first dose, he said.

That will likely happen by the end of May across Ontario, Elliott told reporters last week. 

Some community organizations are getting creative with their vaccine clinics, including the Jamaican Canadian Association that targeted Black residents and administered 2,231 doses this weekend. It offered Caribbean music and food. Most of the residents who were vaccinated at the clinic were between the ages of 18 and 30. 

The clinic was designed to help address vaccine hesitancy and build immunity in the Black community.

"Everyone appreciated the joyful celebratory nature of the event," Dr. David Burt, an immunologist with the city's Black Scientists' Task Force on Vaccine Equity, told Toronot's Board of Health Monday.

Volunteers give the thumbs-up during a temporary COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Woodbine racetrack and casino, in northeast Toronto, on May 5, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Peel, meanwhile, is planning a "doses after dark" campaign — a 32-hour vaccine clinic this weekend with the goal of administering 7,600 doses. It will run from 12:30 p.m. Saturday to 8:30 p.m. Sunday and target shift workers and younger residents.

"This will be like no other Peel clinic held so far," the region said in a news release. There will be "special guests" including Peel's "most notable" doctors and vaccine administers "as we roll out the red carpet for our overnighters!" 

There will be surprises, giveaways and a "shot clock" that tracks the number of doses. 

This clinic is part of a greater push administer a record-setting 150,000 doses in the hard hit region this week, up 50 per cent from the week before, Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel's medical officer of health, told CBC News.

Peel is also set to have administered the first vaccine dose to 50 per cent of residents in the coming days. Mobile clinics are targeting workplaces, places of worship and community centres to reach people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to get vaccinated.

"It's not a convenience issue, it's a breaking down barriers issue," Loh said. 

Vaccines' eligibility expands

Vaccine eligibility will expand this week to include people who: 

  • Have an at-risk health condition such as dementia, diabetes and sickle cell disease on, as of Tuesday.

  • Cannot work from home, such as in essential retail, manufacturing, social services, courts, transportation, financial services, veterinarians and others, as of Tuesday.

  • Are 40 years and older in non-hot spot communities, as of Thursday.

The province also quietly expanded eligibility for Pfizer shots last week to all adults at select pharmacies, including 78 locations in Toronto and Peel Region. 

It announced on Monday that frontline health-care workers will be eligible for their second dose by the end of this week, earlier than the four-month interval. 

With files from Nicholas Boisvert


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