RNAO says Ontario government, taking belated and delayed action, is failing Ontarians as virus runs rampant and endangers lives and our health-care system

On Monday, December 21 RNAO put out the following media release responding to the Ontario government’s announcement of a provincewide shutdown starting on December 26:

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) says the government is failing Ontarians at a crucial moment when COVID-19 runs rampant. Dramatic and immediate action is required. The government’s announcement of a province-wide lockdown comes very late and is further endangering lives and the health-care system by waiting until Dec. 26 to enact the measures.

While RNAO is pleased that the government is finally taking action, it is reckless that the measures are being delayed for several days. These measures should have been implemented weeks ago, when RNAO first called for a province-wide lockdown in November. That call was echoed by countless other organizations and independent experts. If the government had heeded the calls, the strictness of these new lockdown measures, and the length of time required, would have been substantially less.

RNAO is gravely concerned about persons sick and dying with COVID-19, and also about the countless Ontarians who are not getting appropriate access to other diagnostics, treatment and surgery. This will translate into increased morbidity and mortality across a wide spectrum of illnesses and conditions. Why has Premier Doug Ford allowed this situation to deteriorate to the extreme that Ontarians, at this time, cannot be assured the health-care system will be there for them when they need it most? The cost of inaction is also measured in the impact on health-care providers, working on the frontlines, as it places them in conditions that are unsustainable and traumatizing.

On a day when the province recorded 2,123 new cases of the virus – the seventh consecutive day of numbers above the 2,000 threshold – RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun says: “Saving people’s lives must be paramount. Saving one life is more important than shopping.” She adds: “Every day we delay action is a day too late for those who will fall ill and those who will die. And every day is one more day that health workers, desperate for action, are exhausted and hurt.”

In today’s announcement, the government contradicted itself by calling on Ontarians to stay home while allowing Christmas shopping and socializing to go on. Even after the new measures take effect on Dec. 26, they fail to restrict discount and big box retailers from selling non-essential goods. These retailers can continue to offer indoor shopping while small businesses have been shut for indoor shopping. The new measures also wrongly allow indoor religious services and indoor liquor sales to continue.

RNAO is pleased the government’s announcement includes an exception for people who live alone to visit with another household. “This is so important for people’s mental health, for companionship and well-being,” Grinspun says. 

RNAO is painfully aware of the suffering and extreme hardship the lockdown imposes on vulnerable people and small businesses, and that’s why our approach has consistently been that the virus should be controlled at very low levels to avoid extreme measures such as a lockdown. Unfortunately, that opportunity to engage measures to control exponential growth was missed earlier in the fall. We welcome the news that the government is providing $12.5 million to implement a High Priority Communities Strategy to contain the virus in high-risk communities, and urge that much more be done to address the structural inequalities these communities face. We welcome as well the support to establish isolation centres where needed, and commend the new small business support grant that will help struggling small businesses. We urge the government to also include a renewed moratorium on evictions.

Some of the discourse of the Ontario government while releasing the new measures is troublesome, as it once again politicizes the pandemic and thus undermines trust in government that is essential in this time of crisis. Sadly, Premier Ford appeared intent today on blaming the federal government for issues such as the handling of airports, when the reality is that widespread community transmission of the virus is rampant, not transmission through incoming travelers. RNAO calls on the premier – in the strongest possible terms – to stop politicizing vaccines, as every level of government is doing an outstanding job handling this issue in a collaborative manner. While RNAO is excited about the arrival of vaccines, they will not protect us from this virus until mid to late-2021. The urgent task at hand now is to get a grip on an uncontrolled virus.   

RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth says every Ontario resident also has a responsibility to help control the virus. Every one of us must be willing to make sacrifices to protect our families, friends and neighbours, especially vulnerable populations such as residents in long-term homes, those living in other congregate settings, and in racialized and marginalized communities. “It is up to all of us to do our part and obey the advice of public health officials. We can limit the spread if we heed the plea to stay home, limit our contacts with only those in our households, wash our hands, physical distance when we are outside, and wear a mask. If we do not, we will overwhelm our health system, which is already being stretched to its maximum, not to mention nurses and other health professionals who are working flat out to care for people who depend on it.”