TORONTO — In consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, local medical officers of health and public health experts, the Ontario government is tightening public health measures. At the same time, in response to the second wave of COVID-19 and in preparation for the cold winter months, the government is taking action to reduce testing turnaround times while prioritizing those who are at the greatest risk.
The announcement was made by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Dirk Huyer, Coordinator of the Provincial Outbreak Response, and Matthew Anderson, President and CEO of Ontario Health.
“The modeling we released this week demonstrates the absolute necessity to take action now to reverse current trends and protect our hospital capacity,” said Premier Ford. “With the weather changing and more people moving indoors, the decision to introduce new restrictions on restaurants, gyms and other businesses was difficult. However, we will do whatever is necessary, acting on the advice of our public health experts, to turn the tide on this second wave and keep everyone safe.”
New Measures for Testing
The government is taking additional steps to respond to the second wave of COVID-19 and prevent and stop the spread of the virus, while safely keeping schools and businesses open. These include:
- Transitioning to appointment-based testing at Ontario assessment centres beginning Tuesday, October 6, 2020, providing certainty to patients as to when they can receive a test during the cold winter months and allowing assessment centres to conduct enhanced screening to ensure adherence to the guidelines released on September 24, 2020;
- Beginning on Sunday, October 4, 2020, assessment centres will discontinue walk-in testing services, so the province’s lab network can make significant progress in processing tests and to allow assessment centres the necessary time to reset, deep clean and ensure preparedness for the new appointment-based model;
- Continuing mobile testing and pop-up testing centres to reach vulnerable populations and provide targeted testing for long-term care, congregate care, and other vulnerable populations;
- Expanding the number of pharmacies where people with no symptoms within provincial testing guidance can get tested; and
- Implementing updated testing guidance for children to help parents determine when it is most appropriate for students, children and their families to seek a test for COVID-19.
Ontario is also taking longer-term actions to increase the province’s test processing capacity so people can get their results faster, including:
- Increasing testing and processing capacity to 50,000 tests per day by mid-October and 68,000 tests per day by mid-November; and
- Introducing new testing methods once they are approved by Health Canada, including point of care testing and antigen testing.
New Public Health Measures
As the number of new cases continues to rise, the province is taking decisive action to prevent and stop the spread of the virus and avoid future lockdowns. These new restrictions were adopted through the amended order O. Reg 364/20 (Rules for Areas in Stage 3 under the Reopening Ontario [A Flexible Response to COVID-19] Act, 2020). They include mandating the use of face coverings in all public indoor settings across the province, such as businesses, facilities and workplaces, with limited exemptions, including corrections and developmental services.
Targeted measures will also be implemented in Ottawa, Peel, and Toronto as a result of their higher than average rates of transmission. These include:
- Setting an indoor capacity limit to restrict occupancy at restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments (including nightclubs) to the number of patrons who can maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other patron, to a maximum of 100 patrons, permitting no more than six patrons per table, requiring operators to ensure patrons lining up or congregating outside of their establishment maintain physical distancing, and mandating that the name and contact information for each patron be collected;
- Restricting group exercise classes at gyms and other fitness settings to 10 individuals, as well as restricting the total number of people allowed at these facilities to a maximum of 50; and
- Setting a limit on the number of people allowed at meeting and event facilities, including banquet halls, to six people per table and 50 people per facility.
“With Ontario’s recent alarming growth in the number of COVID-19 cases, our government is taking further action to help stop the spread of the virus and avoid future lockdowns,” said Minister Elliott. “These are difficult, but necessary decisions that are being made to keep people safe, especially our seniors and vulnerable citizens. Everyone must follow the public health guidelines if we are going to stop the spread and contain the second wave.”
This amended order will come into effect on Saturday, October 3, 2020 at 12:01 a.m.
In addition, the government is:
- Extending the pause on any further reopening of businesses, facilities, and organizations for an additional 28 days, unless already permitted to open under O. Reg 364/20;
- Pausing social circles and advising that all Ontarians allow close contact only with people living in their own household and maintain two metres physical distancing from everyone else. Individuals who live alone may consider having close contact with another household; and
- Finalizing additional guidance for seniors (70 and over) on how to minimize their risk of acquiring COVID-19, including for upcoming annual gatherings such as Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health and other public health experts continue to closely monitor the evolving situation across the province to advise if and when public health measures or restrictions should be adjusted or tightened.
It remains critically important for everyone to continue following public health advice, including everyday actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as practising physical distancing with those outside your household; wearing a face covering when physical distancing is a challenge or where it is mandatory to do so; washing your hands frequently and thoroughly; and following gathering limits and rules.
For additional protection, the Ontario government is encouraging everyone to download the new COVID Alert app on their smart phone from the Apple and Google Play app stores.