With new variants growing, concerns mount about the premature lifting of restrictions

RNAO remains extremely concerned about the premature lifting of public health restrictions in large parts of the province as a third wave of COVID driven by enormously dangerous new variants is almost certain to emerge. Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health said, “As a public health physician I have never been as concerned about the threat of COVID-19 to your health as I am now... The numbers don’t look so bad… But today’s variant count is the tip of an iceberg.” Dr. Lawrence Loh, the medical officer of health in Peel, added “The numbers are a mirage. You either pay now, or you pay more later.”

Friday’s announcement by Premier Ford keeping Toronto, Peel and North Bay-Parry Sound regions under a stay-at-home order was welcomed by RNAO. The decision to reopen York Region is wrong headed, as is the lack of directive to restrict movement between zones.

Nurses are glad the provincial government has heard the forceful plea from medical officers in these three regions to maintain the stay-at-home order. It is troubling, however, that the provincial government needs to be pushed to maintain restrictions at a time when these new variants are exponentially spreading in our communities.

The reality is that healthcare workers in ICUs, step-down units, LTC and many other frontline services are fighting exhaustion, burnout, and trauma. Many Ontarians will unnecessarily die or suffer severe and prolonged illness because of a preventable third wave of COVID. And many Ontarians will continue to see illness and death due to non-COVID reasons because they cannot get timely access to an overwhelmed healthcare service.

All of this is simply unacceptable. The government can financially support small businesses during this ordeal. No government has the power to bring back to life those who have died.

The idea of risking a third wave driven by new variants for the sake of opening the economy is just plain wrong. The only real and sustained opening of the economy will happen when we get the virus under control – RNAO and others have said this time and again. Health and the economy go together – they don’t work one against the other. Premier Ford has been told this numerous times; he chooses to ignore the advice even after a full year of pandemic tragedy.

RNAO continues to insist that the province must focus squarely on two critical aspects: mitigation through strict public health measures and vaccination through a bold rollout plan.

Ontario was forced to play catch up when it came to providing residents in LTC homes with their vaccines – not because we lacked vaccines, but because of wrong priorities in the rollout. As more supplies of the vaccine arrive, RNAO is urging the government to enlist thousands of nurses who work in primary care and home care, along with other community care providers such as physicians and pharmacists. These providers should be a central part of an efficient and quick vaccine rollout plan. For more detail on RNAO’s thoughts on the vaccine rollout, see our February 10th letter to the Premier here.