The Labor Day celebration may have helped spark an alarming rise in COVID-19 infections in Toronto this week, the city’s health authority said on Friday, announcing 142 new cases and warning against further increases in the coming weeks.
“It’s reasonable to believe that the socialization around this late summer stage has contributed to the recent surge in cases,” said a press release from Toronto Public Health, released just before 5 p.m.
“Data from Toronto Public Health also suggests an increase in infections attributable to people in bars and nightclubs,” warned the health authority, which urged people with weekend plans involving places of entertainment to take measures to minimize the risk of infection.
TPH is warning residents to expect the number of cases to increase in the coming weeks, and advises everyone to limit contact with people they do not live with as much as possible, and to wear a mask and self-care. wash hands often if necessary. be in public.
The surge in cases lands during the week the students returned to school for the first time since March break. It takes place amid a class size controversy, and a day after the province announced it was tightening restrictions on the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings, and increasing fines for mockers.
The province announced 401 new cases on Friday, which has raised deep concern among doctors and epidemiologists that the promising lead won this summer, when the number of infections in Toronto fell to an average of 15 per day. and sometimes less, has been lost.
“This is obviously not good. And when we look at where we were two months ago, it’s day and night, ”said epidemiologist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who added that Ontario is now in the second wave of the pandemic.
“There is clearly community transmission going on, and we clearly need to pivot quickly to prevent these cases from getting any further, spreading into more vulnerable demographic groups and to prevent hospitalization and related deaths. will result if cases continue to increase, ”said Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto and the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute.
According to the Star’s daily tally, the rate of new COVID-19 infections in Toronto has been increasing at an accelerating rate since the city entered the third stage of reopening on July 31.
As of August 1, Toronto had seen an average of about 15 cases reported daily over the previous week. The seven-day average has been increasing every week since the beginning of August. As of Friday, it had reached 93 cases per day.
The pace of that growth has also accelerated: it took 28 days for the seven-day average to double from 15 cases per day to 30 by the end of August. It only took 11 days for it to double again.
The city is still well below its peak infection rate, reached in late May, of around 230 cases per day. However, if the recent growth rate continues, Toronto could approach that rate in early October.
Cases have also increased in the rest of the Greater Toronto Area. Peel Region, which entered Stage 3 on the same day as Toronto, has seen its seven-day average increase nearly five-fold since then, from 12 cases per day to 59.
York Region saw its average amount increase by a similar amount, from about six cases per day to 28.
The regions of Durham and Halton each have an average of about nine or ten cases per day, up from about one in early August.
“I think we should be worried; those of us who work in hospitals are worried, ”said Irfan Dhalla, vice president and general internist, St. Michael’s Hospital and University of Toronto associate professor of medicine.
He said there had been slight increases in recent weeks in the number of patients newly admitted to hospital with COVID-19, but the increase in the number of younger people infected is of particular concern, as it will probably spread to older people. people, who tended to suffer more complications, over the next few weeks.
“I think we did a number of things well, but it’s also clear, looking at the data for the last few weeks, that we didn’t have a sufficiently developed contact tracing. This whole idea of testing, locating and isolating – this whole path clearly wasn’t working well enough to accommodate the reopening of workplaces, restaurants, bars, the increase in social gatherings at home, universities, schools, ”Dhalla said.
He said that provincially, the source of transmission is unknown in about 50% of cases, while in countries like Australia, Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea, the source of transmission is known for a much higher proportion of cases.
“I think someone really needs to get in there and see why it doesn’t work as well as it needs to,” Dhalla said.
Quick and effective contact tracing allows managers to contact people who have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, so they can advise them to isolate and search for tests, to avoid spread the virus further.
Bogoch agreed that more testing is needed.
“We have come a great way from where we were in March. We were doing 2,500 tests a day; now we do about 30,000 tests a day, but the prime minister told us the target is 50,000 a day.
Joe Cressy, chairman of the Toronto board of health, said measures to combat the resurgence will be discussed at a board meeting on Monday.
He said more testing capacity to support contact tracing is needed; Federal travel quarantines must be better enforced, and Health Canada must speed up implementation of a saliva-based test, already introduced in British Columbia, that can indicate if further COVID-19 testing is needed .
“I think over the last few weeks a lot of people felt that COVID was over. That we would beat him. Well, the reality here is that we still have a virus with no vaccine and no developed antibodies, ”he said.
Epidemiologist Dr David Fisman, who has criticized the provincial decision not to reduce class sizes, has previously warned that fall 2020 could reflect fall 1918, when the Spanish flu infected many more people than during the first epidemic. .
“What we control are the phone numbers. It starts with class size, closing bars, restaurants, shopping malls, museums, places of worship, ”Fisman said.
“They can do these things early and proactively or late and reactive. I guess they will do the latter.
Mayor John Tory said he would like to see the new boundaries around gatherings – 10 people indoors, 25 people outdoors – extended to banquet halls and other businesses.
The new limits announced this week for Toronto, Peel and Ottawa apply only to private events and not to those organized by companies.
In Toronto, where marriages have been linked to at least 22 COVID-19 cases recently, the province’s decision to limit private gatherings may make little difference.
Law enforcement has also been a problem.
City officials have previously said they cannot safely send their agents to house parties and it can be difficult to determine if the people gathered in the park are not actually family. .
“Law enforcement, in general, is complex and difficult. We will, of course, adapt to the new rules as we have done throughout the pandemic in our efforts to keep Toronto safe, ”said Chief Law Enforcement Officer Carleton Grant in a statement. email. He added that they were still revising the new rules on Thursday.
City statistics show that between August 1 and September 13, there were no charges related to public gatherings – indoors or in parks.
In total, this year, the City responded to more than 27,000 complaints related to COVID-19 and issued 1,387 tickets. Since August, Toronto Public Health has billed nine restaurants and bars and one grocery store or bakery.
“As always, we’ve done everything we can to ensure compliance first through education and then through law enforcement,” said city spokesperson Brad Ross. “It’s important that we recognize that the public has been asked to dramatically change their behavior. Therefore, we have to give people the opportunity to understand what is requested first and then comply.
Toronto police again said the city was the leader in enforcing social gatherings on Thursday.
“The service will continue to work with the City to support law enforcement efforts following the most recent announcement of new public gathering guidelines,” said spokesperson Connie Osborne. “The ultimate goal of law enforcement is to limit the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and to comply.”
Tory said he couldn’t lead law enforcement, but said Thursday he believes “the time for education is over.”
“It’s a matter of life and death, lives are at stake here.”
He welcomed the higher fines for breaking COVID rules, and he agrees with Ford on the need to throw the book on violators.
“Now our law enforcement officers will have a bigger book to throw,” Tory said.
“I am convinced that our enforcement officials will not hesitate to use” the heaviest fines.
Don’t hold your breath!
—With files from David Rider and Jennifer Pagliaro