RNAO says government’s measures too late and insufficient to break the transmission – but we must enact them fully within a COVID-Zero strategy

RNAO issued today a press release in response to the lockdown measures in Toronto and Peel regions announced by the government. Please RT our tweet. This is the text:

RNAO thanks the government for listening to the voices of nurses and imposing a 28-day partial lockdown for Toronto and Peel region. However, much more was asked of government at the association’s media conference Nov. 13. 

COVID-19 is running rampant in several communities and decisive government action was essential as the virus continues to spread unabated in the community and the effectiveness of more targeted measures has fizzled. It is unfortunate that the measures announced today are once again incomplete. RNAO continues to call for an aggressive and all-encompassing lockdown, followed by an effective and concerted strategy to snuff out the virus – a “COVID-Zero” strategy. The longer we wait, the more painful these cycles will be.

For too long the government has argued there is a conflict between taking care of the economy and taking care of the health of people. The situation we face right now proves how wrong that belief is. The harsh truth is that we will not have a healthy economy until we eliminate this virus. Half-measures to reduce transmission only buy time until we are forced to enact stricter measures, and the stop-and-go approach is putting working people and small businesses in an impossible situation.

We must change the approach. The current measures should be framed within a clear, scientifically-based strategy to suppress the virus and return to some semblance of normal. That can only be achieved with very low rates of transmission, as close as possible to zero – commonly referred to as a “COVID-Zero” strategy. There must be a longer term strategy so that this lockdown is not simply a rehearsal for the next one.

Learning from jurisdictions that have successfully done so, a COVID-Zero strategy entails a short period of stringent lockdown, with travel bans, very limited contact between persons, staying home for those who can (except for essential purposes), accompanied by comprehensive testing – including rapid testing – of key segments of the population and isolation of those who test positive. The intent is to break the reproduction cycle of the virus. Once the lockdown achieves its goal of drastically reducing community transmission, we can proactively use testing to control cases and outbreaks.

Going through the pain of a lockdown without having the tools, funding, political will and appropriate measures in place to ensure this is the final lockdown – and not just a premonition for the next one – is a worst-case scenario. It also means that this lockdown is likely to be longer than if a more aggressive one had been implemented. 

RNAO says today’s announcement, which will limit shopping in retail businesses to curbside pick-up, limit dining in restaurants to takeout, and close gyms, hair salons and other personal care services does not go far enough to suppress the virus and stop it in its tracks. For example, the measures do not go far enough for places of worship and do not affect people who live in York Region and other red zones, including Hamilton, Halton, Durham and Waterloo. There were no measures in the announcement to prevent persons bringing the virus from one region to another. There were insufficient measures to diminish non-essential movement and socializing. There were no restrictions to ensure big box stores that remain open reduce their spreading impact, such as closing non-essential sections of the store.

RNAO is gravely concerned about the impact of the lockdown on small businesses, their employees, and their families. The federal and provincial governments must implement urgent measures to ensure these businesses can survive this second lockdown. We are also extremely concerned about the mental health impacts of the lockdown, and worry about the lack of proper resources to assist and support those who need mental health services during this terribly difficult period.

RNAO knows the burden of COVID-19 illness and death will fall once again on vulnerable, racialized and marginalized neighbourhoods and populations that do not have adequate resources to protect themselves during a lockdown. There must be immediate measures to protect vulnerable people in congregate settings, high-rises, and racialized communities. Governments at all levels must also protect persons experiencing homelessness, addictions and disability.

Although as nurses we believe that schools should remain open, we remain gravely concerned that not enough resources have been provided to ensure proper physical distancing in all schools, proper ventilation, and adequate support for educators who are working under extremely stress-producing realities. Masking is still not universally required in all school boards and for all children ages three and up, as recommended months ago by many, including RNAO.

The virus is once again surging and claiming the lives of residents in long-term care (LTC) homes at a much higher rate than in the population at large. Since Sept. 14, 323 seniors in LTC homes have died. RNAO has been clear about the urgency of a LTC nursing home basic care guarantee to keep residents and staff safe. Responsibility for the death toll in long-term care falls squarely on decision-makers who have known for years – and have seen consistently for the past eight months – the ensuing tragedy caused by their inaction. We have also insisted that essential care partners must be allowed to be with their loved ones – in all nursing homes – and we have made government aware that not all homes comply.

Nurses are working together with other health-care providers under enormously stressful and exhausting conditions to keep people healthy. Nurses call on the public to do their part. There is nothing more demoralizing than to see people who show disregard, ignorance and harmful behaviours at a time when many of us, and many other essential workers, are risking their lives to provide care and services. We must all act together: staying home if we can, minimizing interactions with others, washing our hands, practising physical distancing, avoiding crowded places, wearing a mask, avoiding social events beyond our household, isolating if we come into contact with a suspected case, and eliminating all but the most essential travel. Applauding us and calling us heroes is nice, your actions helps us care for others.

Nurses call on our government to immediately take a COVID-Zero approach to COVID-19; and we call on the public to fully engage in protecting themselves and others. This is the only way to reduce the threat that looms as winter approaches and the resulting tragedy of losing loved ones. Heeding this advice means we will all one day be able to resume our normal lives and do the things we used to take for granted.