RNAO’s statement on the government’s phased-in re-opening plan

Members of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario commend the government’s May 20 announcement of a phased-in Three-Step Re-opening Roadmap for the province.

Based on current trends in key health indicators, including the provincial vaccination rate, the government expects to enter Step One of the Roadmap the week of June 14, 2021. The province will confirm closer to the expected start of Step One, but RNAO cautions against any advancement of this date. We have already learnt the heavy people’s and societal costs of opening too soon.

RNAO says the approach, which calls for a Three-Step plan, each lasting at least 21 days, is simple and reasonable. Instead of a colour-coded regional opening which encountered the problem of mobility across regions, the plan takes a sector-by-sector approach, with each sector re-opening simultaneously across the province. The government says that Step One of the Roadmap may begin after 60% of Ontario’s adults receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and if public health indicators, such as hospitalizations, ICU occupancy and new admissions and case rates indicate the province can safely move to this step of the roadmap. The vaccination target of 60% is reasonable. RNAO would have liked to see specific targets for the other variables – not just the expectation of a positive trend in hospitalizations, ICU occupancy, case rates, etc. The same holds for Steps Two and Three. The vaccination targets set for each are appropriate, but no specific targets are set for other indicators. The government must be very cautious in evaluating these other indicators before moving from one Step to the next. We should learn from past mistakes.

Step One will permit the resumption of more outdoor activities with smaller, well-managed crowds where risk of transmission is minimized and will permit retail, all with restrictions in place. Step Two will further expand outdoor activities and will resume limited indoor services with small numbers of people where face coverings are worn, with other restrictions in place. Step Three will permit the resumption of indoor services with larger numbers of people, with restrictions in place. Likely we can expect Step Three to be accompanied by some type of passport for indoor large gatherings (which RNAO supports, ensuring proper confidentially safeguards) (see here and here and here). For details of the restrictions in each Step, go here

RNAO says that immediate steps, taking effect yesterday, to allow outdoor gatherings of up to five people and the re-opening of outdoor recreational amenities with restrictions in place, such as the need to maintain physical distancing, will allow people to enjoy outdoor activities. RNAO says it is essential that everyone remain vigilant, practicing safe distancing and wearing face masks to protect others and themselves.

RNAO was surprised that the government announcement did not include day passes for long-term care (LTC) nursing home residents, as it did for retirement homes. We were pleased that as soon we brought the issue to the Premier’s attention, it was quickly rectified. A memo was issued the following day. Day passes for LTC nursing home residents are long overdue, as they have been fully vaccinated, yet continued to be in lockdown. We are thrilled for them and their loved ones!

RNAO says the cautious approach reflected in the government’s re-opening roadmap respects the advice of the province’s Science Table. This time, the government heard the advice to wait for two additional weeks beyond the end of the current lockdown on June 2 before starting the re-opening. A measured and careful re-opening is especially necessary since the province continues with very high number of new infections each day and there are still 693 people in hospital ICUs, because of COVID-19. Nurses and other health professionals in critical care and other stressed sectors continue to be stretched to the limit and cannot risk being overwhelmed for much longer.

As Premier Ford mentioned, variants are still spreading throughout Ontario communities, which is why RNAO insists the government must increase the number of paid sick days to 10 days so essential workers and others without access to this employee benefit have the protection they need to isolate safely and to recover if they are unwell without fear of losing their job.

It is heartening that yesterday we marked 54% of Ontarians having had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine! We send a heartfelt THANK YOU to all vaccinators and a bigger one to all persons rolling up their sleeves, including now 12 years old and up – my older grandson included – yehhhhh! 

RNAO urges the government to continue expanding the vaccination program, and to ensure that nurses are fully utilized in the rollout – many have offered to help with no uptake. Similarly, all homecare and primary care nurses – thousands of them – are already in the payroll and for reasons that RNAO and their employers do not understand, these nurses are not being leveraged for vaccination rollout. Nor are most of the 4,500 RN care coordinators who are part of Ontario Health (previously in the LHINs). The latest figure we received from Ontario Health was that only 50 of the 4,500 had been located in vaccination centres.