Ontario has been advised to “stay the course” with the province’s pandemic restrictions until COVID-19 cases experience a significant decline, which could see the stay-at-home order extended until June.
Health Minister Christine Elliott indicated that the downward slide since the peak of the third wave in April isn’t enough to pull back the restrictive measures and said the province is looking for a “pretty significant drop” in case numbers and ICU admissions before lifting the order.
“The medical experts have been very clear that we need to stay the course right now,” Elliott told reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday.
The advice from provincial health advisors is in line with local medical officers of health, who sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford on Friday asking for an extension in the emergency measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 variants.
“It is crystal clear that public health measures aimed at decreasing mobility and interpersonal contact are by far the most important tool we have currently to prevent transmission of COVID-19,” the Association of Local Public Health Agencies said its letter.
“Any move to relax restrictions now would without a doubt reverse the modest downward trends we have observed over the past two weeks.”
The letter, which was also signed by the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health, pointed out that new daily case numbers, test positivity rates, and patients in ICU remains far higher than at the peak of the second wave and noted the situation isn’t expected to change before the current orders expire.
If the stay-at-home order, which is due to expire on May 20, is extended by two weeks it would last until June 2.
While Elliott didn’t provide specific thresholds to initiate an economic re-opening, she said the government is “actively considering” how and when the province will exit the third wave restrictions.
“It’s really a question of time and how quickly those numbers can come down,” Elliott said. “We are not at the place where we can release the stay-at-home order, but there will be a plan when that time does come.”
CTV News Toronto contacted Ford’s office on Monday about when the decision will be made on extending or ending the stay-at-home order.
A spokesperson for Ford said they “don’t have any details” at this time.
On Monday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said he would like to see daily COVID-19 cases dip below 1,000 before restrictions are eased.
He said when Ontario reopens it should be “slow and steady” so that businesses don’t have to close again.
“We do not want a fourth wave,” Williams said. “Slow and steady and stay open. That’s our goal.”
Last week, Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe was asked about whether she thinks the province is ready to relax restrictions.
She expressed concern that reopening to early could spark a fourth wave of COVID-19.
“I would be surprised if things open up at the end of May,” Yaffe said. “They may open partially, (but) certainly we don’t want to open up prematurely and end up with a fourth wave,” Yaffe said.
“That’s the last thing we need.”
As of Monday, there are currently more than 1,632 people in hospital due to COVID-19, though officials noted that the number might be underestimated as not all hospitals submitted their data this weekend.
At least 828 of these patients are in intensive care and 547 are breathing with the assistance of a ventilator.
The number of patients in intensive care exceeded 900 during the height of the third wave.