By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—“There will be some dark days ahead,” said Premier Doug Ford when he announced a second state of emergency on January 12, 2021. “Our province is in crisis. The system is on the brink of collapse. It’s on the brink of being overwhelmed. We’re at levels we’ve never seen before.”
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, Co-Chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, presented new modelling ahead of Ford’s announcement that shows the province’s health care system could be overwhelmed if new cases aren’t reduced.
“We are at a dangerous point. The number of cases in Ontario is growing between 3-5% every day,” said Brown. The modelling shows that a consistent 3% increase per day would put Ontario at 10,000 new cases per day by mid-February. If that increase hits 5% per day, the province would see 20,000 cases per day next month, and at the worst-case presented 7%, cases would reach 40,000 per day.
According to Brown, Ontario is already struggling as COVID-19’s “impact on our health system is already greater today than we have seen in our history … far greater than things like the flu, or anything it is regularly compared to.” One quarter of hospitals have zero ICU beds available, and another quarter only have one to two beds open. Additionally, 40% of long term care homes have active outbreaks currently.
If Ontario doesn’t reduce its case numbers and the hospitals become overwhelmed, Brown warned, “There will be choices about who will get the care they need, and who will not. Decisions about who will get oxygen.”
Brown emphasized that these choices will affect all patients needing intensive care, such as those for heart attack or car accidents, and that doctors will be forced to delay surgeries, making patients sicker and putting more lives at risk.
The introduction of a new strain, originating from the UK, also concerns health officials. While the new strain has a similar mortality rate to the original, it is at least 50% more likely to spread. If this new strain is able to spread, the doubling rate of COVID-19 cases could be reduced by two-thirds, with cases doubling every 10 days by March.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, spoke after Brown. She added, “We’re all tired, we’re all fed up, we want this thing to go away. As you can see from Dr. Brown … people are still moving about. We know that a third of people are not following public health measures. I think what it shows is that the shutdown was not enough.”
A stay-at-home order is now in effect as of January 14, requiring everyone to stay at home except for essential purposes. Essential purposes include getting groceries or medications and accessing health services. Essential work is another exception, although the Province is telling every employer who is able to allow employees to work from home.
Ford was clear to note that he has not issued a curfew, and that residents are welcome to be outdoors, such as for exercise, so long as they avoid gatherings and keep distance from anyone outside their household.
All non-essential retail stores, such as hardware stores and alcohol retailers, can open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m. These restrictions do not apply to stores that sell primarily food, pharmacies, gas stations, or restaurants (take-out and delivery).
Enforcement actions are expected to increase to ensure the new measures are followed. Ford noted an upcoming “enforcement blitz” for big box stores and warned the Province would “come down hard” on violations if needed.
Online teacher-led learning for Haldimand students is currently set to end January 25. Five hotspot regions, including Hamilton, have had online-only learning extended to February 10. The Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario will advise which areas can return to in-person classes by January 20.
“Targeted testing done among students and staff in December 2020 confirmed that schools are not a significant source of transmission. However, with students having been at home for several weeks and with reports of concerning behaviour over the holidays, the positivity rate among school-aged children has increased sharply,” said a January 7 Provincial press release. “Most troubling, the positivity rate for kids aged 12-13 years old increased from 5.44% in late November, early December to nearly 20% in early January.”
Applications for the Support for Learners program is open until February 8, providing $200 for each child up to Grade 12 and $250 for each child with special needs up to age 21.
Vaccinations are continuing to be rolled out, with Prime Minister Trudeau announcing this week, “From our agreements with Pfizer and Moderna alone … we are on track to have every Canadian who wants a vaccine receive one by September.”
Ford concluded, “Unlike back in March, today we have the vaccine. Hope is on the horizon … but we need to give that vaccine the runway it needs…. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do, and we have the toughest people in the world here in Ontario. Stay home, stay safe, save lives.”