Ahead of the Ontario government’s announcement of stricter measures for COVID-19 hot spots, officials from York Region on Thursday are asking not to be moved to the lockdown zone.
In a letter to Premier Doug Ford, York Region Chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson and York Region Public Health Medical Officer of Health Dr. Karim Kurji requested that the area remains in the control or red category as they wait to see the impact of the restrictions that were imposed on Monday.
Both officials wrote that they believe those measures are sufficient and “will go a long way in preventing new cases of COVID-19 in our communities.”
They said the outcome of the restrictions are expected to be seen at the end of the month and that they are “confident” that the case numbers will go down.
The letter comes after the premier said that some “tough” new measures are coming in the province’s hot spots – Toronto, Peel and York region – as new infections, ICU admissions, and deaths continue to soar.
“Tomorrow, our government will release further public health restrictions based on the best medical advice, and as it is looking, these measures will have to be tough in the hardest-hit areas,” Ford said.
“We are seeing concerning trends. Our hospital ICUs are in jeopardy. Our long-term care homes are at risk. We have some difficult but necessary decisions to make.”
Under the grey or lockdown zone, the province said widescale measures and restrictions, including closures, are expected and a declaration of emergency should be considered.
Emmerson and Kurji acknowledged that the number of new cases and positivity rates in the region continue to be high, but they believe the current measures will “likely” work.
On Thursday, York Region reported 143 new cases of COVID-19. Its seven-day rolling average stands at 180.
In their letter, Emmerson and Kurji said inspections of businesses showed that most of establishments are complying. Residents are also abiding by public health measures, including wearing masks.
They also noted that the region’s three hospitals continue to manage COVID-19 patients and “have not seen evidence of capacity strains.”
As well, Emmerson and Kurji said outbreaks in schools remain manageable, and workplace outbreaks are seeing a decline. As of Thursday, there are 42 outbreaks in the region.
“It is our position that good case, contact and outbreak control management continues to be our most effective means of reducing new cases in the community,” officials said.
Both officials said the region is also committed to increase enforcement activities by York Regional Police and bylaw officers in areas where gathering restrictions are being violated.
While they want to be excluded from being placed into a lockdown, officials said they welcome any additional measures to control the spread of COVID-19 in malls, large outlets, and banquet halls.
“Our small businesses in York Region –as is the case right across Ontario –continue to do everything asked of them to stay open and keep their customers, themselves and their families safe,” Emmerson and Kurji said.
“We all need to stand up for them and keep as many businesses open as much as possible.”
‘We want a bit more time’
Speaking to CP24 Thursday evening, Kurji said it takes 10 to 12 days before the effects of the restrictions are reflected on the numbers, and that’s why he wants the region to remain in the red zone.
“That was indeed the case when we entered the Stage 2 modified period — it took 10 to 12 days before the case numbers went down. So, we are asking to wait a little bit,” the doctor said.
“We want to balance livelihoods against the health effects of COVID-19. Of course, there are the mental health effects, the social effects as well when you’re going to a lockdown.”
Kurji said many small businesses have already closed due to the pandemic, and going into a lockdown will hurt more struggling entrepreneurs.
The doctor anticipates a decline in the number of new cases in the area in the coming days.
“I am reasonably hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to reach (that goal), and we are going to make a concerted effort with respect to the enforcement activities,” Kurji said.
“If we are not successful, then we may have to revisit our positions.”
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti supports the letter, saying that the situation has steadied in the region.
“We feel that we want at least another week to see how the red zone measures are impacting the number of cases,” said Scarpitti in an interview with CP24.
“We’re different than Toronto and Peel. We actually feel with the measures that are in place with the control zone and if they also put some additional measures for shopping malls, big-box retail and grocery stores, and banquet halls, we think that will have enough of an impact to stabilize the number of cases, so we don’t go into a further lockdown.”
Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua echoed Scarpitti, saying that York Region has handled the pandemic “exceptionally well.”
While it’s important that proper restrictions are put in place, the mayor also stressed the significance of taking personal responsibility, following public health guidance to curb the spread of the virus.
“I think people need to recognize that these are extraordinary times. They require extraordinary measures,” Bevilacqua said.
“It comes down to our willingness and our personal responsibility. That’s what’s going to get us over this very difficult and challenging time.”
— with files from CP24 staff