Toronto reports 381 new COVID-19 cases as medical officer calls for new restaurant rules
'This is not the time to panic. It is the time to act,' says Dr. Eileen de Villa
Toronto reported 381 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday as the city's medical officer of health said she will recommend that city council take immediate actions to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Eileen de Villa said she will recommend to council this week that it require restaurants and bars to reduce the number of patrons from 100 to 75, reduce the number of people at a table from 10 to six, collect contact information from each patron at a table, and lower background music to the level of conversation.
City council meets on Wednesday.
"Nowhere in the city escapes the risk. We move around too much for that. But this is not the time to panic. It is time to act," de Villa told reporters at a city hall news briefing.
There have been about 3,000 confirmed new COVID-19 infections in Toronto this month alone, she said.
"It's plain to see that there is an immediate, rising risk in Toronto of continued and significant COVID-19 resurgence," she said.
But she said the city can take "logical steps" now to slow the spread of the virus.
"As a large, dense, and mobile city, and particularly as a population centre for young people, Toronto is seeing sustained increases in infections. I believe we can build on the provincial action so the city can further arrest the spread of COVID-19," she said.
De Villa said she will also recommend that council extend city COVID-19 bylaws until its first meeting in 2021.
That would include the bylaws mandating physical distancing in public spaces, mandatory masks, public health measures for bars and restaurants and temporary COVID amendments that cover apartment buildings. All of the these bylaws are set to expire on Thursday.
In a news release on Monday, the city said: "Torontonians should expect case counts to rise over the next few weeks."
Later, de Villa said the request to lower the volume of music in restaurants is to prevent people from leaning in closer to other people when they speak and to ensure people do not have to speak loudly over music — both actions that increase the potential for infection spread from one person to the next.
54 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Toronto
Toronto's new cases on Monday bring the city's cumulative case count to 19,033. A total of 16,034 people have recovered.
A total of 1,178 people have died of COVID-19 in Toronto. The city reported no new deaths. Fifty-four people are in hospital with the virus, an increase of one since Sunday.
As for the province, Ontario recorded 700 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, the most on a single day since the outbreak began in late January.
De Villa said Toronto Public Health (TPH) ordered three King Street West restaurants to close down for allegedly not taking the "necessary steps" to protect patrons and employees from the spread of COVID-19.
TPH issued orders to other businesses to comply better with contact tracing efforts, she added.
COVID-19 linked to 'wide range of locations'
De Villa said, however, that no one location is safer than the next because people get COVID-19 from other people, not from specific places.
"COVID-19 is linked to a wide range of locations," she said.
"In the past few weeks, we've seen COVID-19 linked to locations like private parties, a diverse range of workplaces, weddings, and religious services. I understand the belief that if we just list all the locations where infected people have been, it will tell us where we can go safely. It doesn't work that way."
But de Villa noted that there is evidence that venues such as bars and restaurants can contribute to virus spread, and if a venue is not following public health requirements, there is higher risk associated with that venue.
And she said the provincial government implemented new restrictions aimed at that higher risk. Ontario's bars and restaurants, for example, can no longer serve alcohol after 11 p.m. Bars and restaurants must also close at midnight, except for takeout and delivery, and businesses must screen anyone who wishes to enter the premises. Strip clubs have also been closed.
"There is nothing inherently wrong with the hospitality sector. There is, however, a potential level of risk distinct to it, which the province acted to address," she said.
De Villa said the concept of a 10-person bubble, or social circle, no longer reflects the circumstances under which Toronto residents are living.
"It was a sensible approach to exiting the strict isolation and restrictions of last spring. It was an effective model for safely establishing contact between people — at that time. But with reopening and the return to school, times have changed.," she said.
"Where you go in the city is less important than what you do when you are there."
'Alarm bell is ringing,' mayor says
Mayor John Tory, who also spoke at the city hall briefing, said he was shocked by Monday's case count increase.
"We're asking Toronto residents to recognize that the alarm bell is ringing and to take action now in their own lives that will help us to stop the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve again," Tory said.
The mayor said he fully supports the recommendations from the medical officer. He noted that they mean recommending that people limit their interactions outside of their homes and wear a mask as much as possible.
Tory said they also mean the city will extend for six months the mandatory mask bylaw that applies to public spaces, such as stores and common areas in condos and apartments, and that the city is urging the province through the ministry of labour to introduce mandatory mask policies inside workplaces where physical distancing is not possible.
"All of these measures are based on the best public health advice that we can get right now ... We are trying to beat this virus back by surgically and tactically reducing opportunities for virus spread without reverting to a more complete lock down," he said.
Later, Tory acknowledged that the city is trying to strike "the best balance" between protecting health, preserving livelihoods, keeping schools and businesses open, ensuring people have some kind of social connection, and protecting mental health.
"This is a very challenging balance to strike," he said.