Toronto’s top public health official will ask city council to approve a number of new restrictions on restaurants and bars amid a rise in cases that she says has put the city on the brink of a “continued and significant resurgence” of COVID-19.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa told reporters at a regularly scheduled briefing on Monday afternoon that she will be recommending that city council lower the allowed capacity at restaurants and bars from 100 to 75 and the maximum number of people permitted at any one table from 10 to 6.
She said that she will also ask council to require that restaurants and bars collect contact information for each patron they serve. Currently, restaurant and bars only need to get contact information from one person for each table.
“As your medical officer of health I am acting to implement new actions as swiftly as possible that reflect the seriousness of the infection levels we are seeing,” de Villa said. “It is plain to see that there is an immediate rising risk in Toronto of continued and significant COVID-19 resurgence.”
The recommendations being made by de Villa come in the wake of the city reporting a record 381 new cases of COVID-19 over a single 24-hour period.
She said that while there is “nothing inherently wrong” with the hospitality sector there is a “potential level of risk distinct to it,” which gives rise to the need for further restrictions.
She said that she sees the measures that she is proposing as the “logical next step” following a decision by the Ford government to prohibit the sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants after 11 p.m.
“If a venue is consistently doing the things they should be to operate safely the risk is lower but there will still be risk,” she said. “Even if we announced locations (where cases have occurred) in real time, my team cannot establish the facts of a case until we’re notified of a confirmed lab result. Remember, COVID-19 comes on gradually. And sometimes symptoms never show up at all. By the time a venue is named publicly, the immediate threat has likely been over for many days and that person or persons are circulating in the community not fixed in one place.”
Numerous outbreaks tied to bars and restaurants
Public health officials have previously said that restaurants and bars have not been a major driving of infections in Ontario, though that may be changing.
Speaking with reporters earlier on Monday, Ontario’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said that there “about three to four to five new outbreaks” every day that are related to bars and restaurants in Ontario.
He also said that that officials are growing concerned with reports of staff working at multiple locations and, in some cases, being encouraged to work while ill.
In fact, just last week Toronto Public Health ordered the closure of four hospitality businesses over concerns that they broke rules put into place to limit the spread of COVID-19.
At the time de Villa said that there were reports that at least one of the businesses pressured staff to work while ill.
“We are trying to beat this virus back by surgically and tactically reducing opportunities for virus spread without reverting to a more complete lockdown,” Mayor John Tory said of the new proposed restrictions during Monday’s briefing. “To put it at its plainest and simplest: we should revert socially to something closer to what we experienced in the spring. Aside from interaction from work and school where many precautions are in place please try to stick with the people you live with.”
City council is expected to vote on de Villa’s recommendations during a meeting scheduled for Wednesday.