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COVID-19 spread is slowing but stay-at-home-order needs to be extended: de Villa

Last Updated May 10, 2021 at 6:37 pm EDT

A bar is temporarily closed due to the Ontario wide 'Stay at Home' order in Kingston, Ontario on Friday April 30, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues across Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health says the provincial stay-at-home order is working and we are “moving in the right direction, incrementally,” but it likely needs to remain in place beyond May 20.

In the city’s daily COVID-19 briefing on Monday, Dr. Eileen de Villa said Toronto is currently counting about 262 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people per week. This week is the third in a row where the city has marked declining cases per 100,000 people.

“We are starting to see signs for cautious optimism with small decreases in our case numbers,” said Dr. de Villa. “The reproductive number is now below 1 — that means spread is slowing.”

Dr. de Villa said the province’s imposition of the “emergency brake” on April 3 has resulted in more than a 43 per cent reduction in transmission of the virus.

She added data that shows how the city’s population moves about revealed a “modest swing” toward more time being spent at home. When the province moved into the grey lockdown zone at the end of March, the number stood at 77 per cent. After the emergency brake and stay-at-home order was implemented, it increased slightly to 80 per cent.

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However Dr. de Villa cautioned that daily case numbers in the city are still hovering close to the 1000 mark, reflecting the increased infectiousness of the variants of concern (VOC).

“We face a much different intruder than we used to,” she said.

Based on modelling projections — taking into account vaccination rates and VOCs — the city can expect approximately 400 cases daily by June 1, if current public health measures and levels of contact are maintained.

If measures are relaxed and transmission was to increase by as little as 20 per cent, that number would double to 800.

“I am of the belief that there is little likelihood the facts will change sufficiently by May 20 when the current [stay-at-home] order is set to expire,” said Dr. de Villa. “I believe we cannot vaccinate our way out of this third wave, but that vaccination will be a powerful launchpad toward a more normal way of living after this wave passes.”

Dr. de Villa added that she believes vaccinations will mitigate the risk of a fourth wave of the pandemic and warm weather and the outdoors “can be allies in reducing the spread of COVID-19.” But moving to reopen too soon would be disastrous.

“My peers and I don’t want any kind of restrictions in place for one minute longer than is necessary. But we have seen what happens when we rush to reopen — it always leads us to a resurgence of daily illness hospitalizations and ultimately deaths,” she said.

The comments are in line with what the province’s medical officer of health said last week, cautioning that while daily COVID-19 case numbers are decreasing, hospitals still face dire capacity issues.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe said she would be surprised if the economy fully reopens on May 20.

“Whatever is planned, hopefully, will be done very gradually and slowly,” she said. “We don’t want a wave four.”