Government's reopening plan threatens the health of Ontarians

RNAO issued today the following media release.

The government's reopening framework is threatening people's lives, the collapse of the province's health system and the closing of schools.

The government's latest announcement Friday (March 26) that Hamilton is moving into the grey-lockdown zone and the regions of Timiskaming and Eastern Ontario are moving into the red zone provide further proof that a third wave of COVID-19 could engulf vast sections of the province.

Yet, on Friday, March 19, the government announced it was increasing capacity limits for indoor dining in selected regions designated in the red and orange zones. It also gave the go-ahead for outdoor dining in regions that have been placed in the grey-lockdown zone. Large numbers of people have been gathering since.

"The minister of health has said the next few weeks are critical and she is correct. However, at the same time Minister Elliott is warning Ontarians about the dangers variants of the virus pose, the government is issuing contradictory messages by relaxing public health measures designed to protect people's health. That's why we are urging Premier Ford to scale back reopening plans," says RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun, including the latest plan to reopen personal care services such as hair salons and barber shops on April 12.

RNAO says public health measures are being eased at the same time Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams has confirmed that Ontario is in the midst of a third wave. "We need to act now to prevent this third wave from being more catastrophic than the second wave. We know with certainty that the virus variants spread mush faster. We also fear it makes people far sicker and can result in much higher rates of death," adds Grinspun.

The government's own modeling projections indicate the highly contagious variants could see daily case counts balloon anywhere from 2,500 cases to a worst-case scenario of up to 4,000 new infections by the end of March. For the past three days, they have been well over 2,000 cases and fast approaching the 2,500 mark.

Equally alarming says RNAO are hospital ICU levels that, according to Critical Care Services Ontario, show COVID-19 patients occupied 401 beds as of March 26, well above the threshold at which hospitals say they can cope. 

Rather than opening up parts of the province, Grinspun says the government should strengthen restriction of movement to enable the health system to cope. "Our focus should be on containing the spread of the virus, keeping our health system functioning, our schools open and safe, and redoubling the efforts to rollout vaccines."

RNAO president Morgan Hoffarth wants the government to ensure nurses; particularly those who work in primary care and home care – close to 20,000 – are fully utilized in the province's vaccine rollout. "As more and more vaccines arrive, we urge the government to enlist the 7,500 nurses who work in home care." This is something RNAO has been advocating for and outlined in a letter sent to the premier and health minister in February, imploring the government to act. "Nurses are providing care for seniors and others who are homebound on a regular basis. This will ensure the pace of the rollout speeds up and is carried out more safely and efficiently." Hoffarth says this is especially important given the evidence that people 60 years of age and older are at a much greater risk of dying from COVID-19.

Hoffarth also says continuing to relax public health measures at a time that the spread of the virus is increasing will likely result in the closing of schools in various regions of the province, which she points out would be devastating for children. "We know the best place for children is to be in class, learning from their teachers and interacting with their peers. If we continue to put business interests ahead of the education, mental health and wellbeing of children, schools will inevitably be forced to close," says Hoffarth.

"Nurses know small businesses are suffering and call on government to help by providing funding to get them through the next few months. We will all go back to patronizing our local businesses when the pandemic is under control. However, we will never get back the lives lost to COVID-19," says Hoffarth, adding "we also renew our plea to Premier Ford to announce paid sick days for people who don't have that employment benefit. This is a critical measure to help workers and slow down the spread of COVID-19."