RNAO’s continuing media profile: The December 2021 report

On Jan. 3, Premier Doug Ford announced new public health measures in response to the increasing daily case counts of COVID-19, most linked to the Omicron variant. These measures included a move back to Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopening framework, which closes indoor dining and gyms, limits indoor gatherings to five people, and reduces capacity in retail stores and personal care services to 50 per cent, among other restrictions. Ford also announced online learning for all Ontario students until at least Jan. 17.

In response, RNAO published a media release calling these measures “too little, too late.”

“This was completely avoidable had Premier Ford and Dr. Moore listened and acted earlier,” said RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth. RNAO warned the Omicron variant would spread rapidly and urged the government to act accordingly, yet delayed action from the government has led to detrimental impacts on our health system. On Jan. 5, I told CTV News that the premier and his cabinet are abandoning nurses. “It’s an absolute disgrace. At least in other provinces, the premiers speak about nurses and are doing all they can to help (nurses). Here it is not the case.” As we start a new year, rest assured that RNAO will continue to advocate to protect health-care workers, the public and our health system as a whole.

In December 2021, RNAO spoke to the media about several prominent, timely issues including the ongoing nursing shortage, Bill 124 and booster vaccines. We also commented on the Ontario government’s announcements prior to the holidays, including changes to capacity limits, testing requirements and reporting of cases.

The ongoing and worsening shortage of nurses continues to be at the forefront of RNAO’s advocacy and media activity. In December, we issued a number of media releases calling on the premier to immediately repeal Bill 124. On Dec. 7, we called on MPPs to sign a pledge to show their support for the repeal of Bill 124 and to have their names added to our website. On Dec. 14, we issued a second media release following a press conference with myself, RNAO President-Elect Claudette Holloway and RN Leah Waxman, one of the founders of Nursewithsign416. I told CTV News Kitchener (Dec. 13) that “there is a crisis in the RN workforce.” In a Dec. 31 CTV Northern News article about nurse burnout, I said: “It’s a story of disregard of nurses and nursing as a profession that repeats and repeats.” Our hospitals are in a critical state and our nurses need to be respected for the important care they provide every day. Also on Dec. 31, in my Globe and Mail op-ed about Bill 124, I said that the way out of this nursing crisis “will not begin until Ontario has a government that sees, values and respects its nurses by compensating them for what they are worth.” If you haven’t already done so, please sign our Action Alert and share it with your friends, families and networks to continue to urge the government to repeal Bill 124 to respect and retain nurses.

On Dec. 2, Ontario expanded booster shot eligibility to those 50 and older. RNAO welcomed this expansion and urged the government to make vaccinations mandatory for health-care and education workers. “This virus knows no boundaries so we need to act on all fronts,” I said in our Dec. 3 media release. Eligibility for the booster shot was expanded again to include all Ontarians 18 and older in mid-December. “Omicron is explosive. This is why we urge every Ontarian who is eligible to get vaccinated, and for those who already have, get your booster shot,” I said in our Dec. 15 media release. Thank you to those who have already received all three doses.

The Ontario government announced capacity limits of 50 per cent for restaurants, bars and gyms as well as social gathering limits of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors on Dec. 17. RNAO issued a media release on the same day, stating that while these steps are essential, Premier Ford did not do enough to contain the out-of-control spread of the virus. We are now facing the consequences of this inaction with increased daily case counts, hospitalizations and staffing shortages across all health sectors. “This is a virus that knows no bounds,” said RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth. Also on that same day, I told CP24 that “the health system will not be unable to cope with (the virus).”

By the end of December, the Ontario government had announced it was updating its testing and isolation guidelines. Due to lab resources being stretched too thin, PCR testing would only be available to high-risk individuals who were symptomatic or at risk of severe illness, as well as workers and residents in highest risk settings. Those guidelines are still in place today.

The province is now urging people who suspect they have COVID-19 to isolate for five days (vs. the previous 10-day requirement). The government also announced it would no longer provide school case counts of the virus – an absolute disgrace. In an RNAO media release issued on Dec. 30, thoughtfully titled “Ontario government surrendering its fight against Omicron,” I said: “Without a Plan B, people who are sick or who are asymptomatic but suspect they may have Omicron, are on their own.” I told CTV News (Dec. 31) that the government is “giving up on any attempt to control this virus…Our concern is a health-system collapse.”

On Jan. 6, RNAO issued an open letter to the premier. He must act now as the system is on the verge of a total collapse. If you are active on social media, please share our tweet with your followers to urge the Ontario government to move back to Stage One of the province’s reopening framework and #RepealBill124.

In December, RNAO’s media outreach resulted in 95 media hits. We will continue to speak out on important issues and push for the Ford government to take action when and where it’s needed. Visit our COVID-19 press room to stay updated on our media interviews and activities, and follow us on Twitter to stay engaged.