National Post (Latest Edition)

In Ontario, wavering from caution to lockdown


Pandemic days in Ontario have taken on a kind of rhythm six months in. It’s a bit like a lineup for a TV station that’s gone all in on sad.

At about 10 a.m., the daily case counts come out. Health Minister Christine Elliott releases them on Twitter. For a few hours alarmed experts talk online about what the numbers mean, then, at about 1 p. m., Premier Doug Ford appears.

On most days, he’ll announce something. He’ll get asked about something else. Inevitably, he’ll shake his head about what some yahoo somewhere is doing. Then, in a sign of just how weird this year has become, he’ll say something nice to someone at the Toronto Star.

If you have the deluxe package, you can stick around for the briefing from the province’s chief medical officer of health at 3 p. m. If you’re in Toronto, you can tune in at 4 p. m. for an update from the mayor.

If you’re just ducking in and out while going on with your life, you can catch the chatter on Twitter all day. Public health experts, physicians and epidemiolo­gists will beg the province to do more. Cranks, conspiracy nuts and libertaria­ns will urge it to do less.

If the pattern holds, all the different streams will end up sounding the same, just on a slight delay. It’s like a public health round, or the worst barbershop quartet you’ve ever heard.

The experts will call for something, a change in testing criteria, say, or a reduction in drinking hours. A few days later, the local health experts will follow. Then, usually about a week after the initial calls grow deafening, the province will announce a plan.

That was the pattern with asymptomat­ic testing. That was the pattern with restaurant hours. If the trend continues it will soon be the pattern with social circles, indoor dining, gyms, weddings and more.

On Monday, Ontario announced 700 new positive tests for COVID-19, an alltime high for a single day in the province. That number didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s the continuati­on of a trend going back more than a month now, spurred by reopened businesses, packed schools and rejuvenate­d social lives.

For now, hospitaliz­ations and deaths haven’t climbed in concert with the rising case numbers. But experts believe it’s likely only a matter of time.

We may never see another crush like the one we saw in the spring, let alone the kinds of overwhelmi­ng waves that struck Italy and New York City. But cases that start in a younger, healthier population will inevitably spread to older, more vulnerable groups, according to Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. And when they do, more people will get sick and some of them will die.

To avoid that eventualit­y, Morris and others want the province to walk back some of the reopening steps taken this summer.

“The problem you have is, this isn’t a disease that recedes on its own,” Morris said. You can choose to make it recede with a hammer early on while cases are still manageable and contact tracing is under control, he said. Or you can wait and delay.

“Then you’ve to got to deal with a hammer that’s going to be longer and more painful.”

On Monday, the Ontario Hospital Associatio­n called for the provincial government to return the hardest- hit areas of the province to stage two of the reopening plan. That would mean closing gyms, theatres and many other business in The Greater Toronto Area and Ottawa, as well as shutting down indoor dining in restaurant­s in those cities.

“We’ve seen in jurisdicti­ons around the world how acute care capacity can be easily overwhelme­d if the number of positive cases rises too sharply,” Anthony Dale, the associatio­n’s president and CEO said in a statement.

“( W) e can no longer retain a false sense of security and belief that this will not happen to us. At this rate, Ontario hospitals are facing a direct threat to their ability to continue delivering the highest quality of care to Ontarians.”

For now, though, the province is holding off on any new action. Ford acknowledg­ed in his remarks Monday that the second wave of COVID- 19 is here, and he warned that it could be worse than the first. But he said he isn’t ready to shut anything down.

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