Ontario government raises threshold for restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise, documents say

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The Ford government dramatically raised its own thresholds to implement tougher COVID-19 restrictions as the number of cases continued to rise in early November, contradicting both its own previous guidelines and prevailing wisdom in the medical community.

As Ford and his cabinet and health command table formulated a new five-level framework for COVID-19 measures at the end of October, they initially decided that any region with more than 40 new ones cases per 100,000 population and a test positivity rate greater than 2.5 percent be put in the red “control” category, the highest level of public health restrictions before a full lockdown

But according to confidential provincial documents obtained by CTV News Toronto, they raised the threshold to move out of the lower amber category to ‘restrict’ and move to the red ‘control’ category in early November, from 40 cases to 100 new cases per 100,000 – a 250 percent increase; and the test positivity rate from 2.5 percent to 10 percent – a 400 percent increase.

They also increased the effective reproduction number (Rt) to be allowed in the lower “restricted” orange category from 1 to 1.2.

Indoor dining, gym activities, karaoke singing, cinemas and casinos are allowed to operate in this “restricted” orange category.

The region of Peel, and soon to be Toronto, now occupies the red category, with additional measures imposed by the local medical officer of health in each region.

The updated thresholds were widely reviewed by most epidemiologists, the Ontario Medical Association, and even went against what Premier Doug Ford himself had previously said, where any region with a positivity rate of over 2.5% reached the province’s high alert range for concern.

The higher thresholds were implemented as major Peel Region hospital networks said they could no longer accept COVID-19 patients and transferred at least 20 hospital patients to other parts of the province .

Raising the test positivity threshold is even at odds with World Health Organization guidelines, which state that sustained test positivity above 5% should mean that a jurisdiction should not relax measures. public health.

The documents appear to support a report by the Toronto Star which suggested that the indicators adopted by the province were much higher than those proposed by members of its own health table and Public Health Ontario.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government considered a “wide variety” of factors before putting the plan into action.

“Several numbers were suggested to us, but it was also taken into account the issues on the other side when it came to mental health, the significant levels of anxiety and depression that we have witnessed and that we also had to think about. . some of those recommendations, ”Elliott said in an interview with CTV News Toronto Thursday.

“This was reflected in the final framework that was submitted to me for review and then returned to Cabinet without any review.

Elliott argued that the framework presented by the Ontario government prevents the possibility of “extended and deeper lockdowns”, but declined to say whether or not the proposed benchmarks would be changed in the face of record numbers.

” We are learning. So if we need to make changes, we will, but for now, we rely on the framework for decisions to come.

Public Health Ontario said Thursday it supports one of its doctors’ comments to the Toronto Star regarding the easing of thresholds in the province’s COVID-19 response, against advice he has provided to the Ford government.

Michael Garron Hospital doctor Dr Michael Warner said he believes the changes have been made to help businesses stay open in more areas of the province.

“I think he moved the post to allow the economic reopening in the short term and it is not a wise decision in the long term,” he told CP24. “This will lead to further lockdowns and increased insecurity for all businesses that are closed or about to close because the pandemic is out of control.

For his part, Ontario Premier Doug Ford told a Hamilton radio station on Thursday that he “always relies on health and science” for advice.

Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said the changes were up to Ford and Elliott lying to the people of the province.

“Sir. Ford and Ms. Elliott lied and decided to play with people’s lives. Now we are headed for a health and economic disaster. ”

Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said raising the thresholds threatened vulnerable populations.

“Doug Ford ignored the advice of Ontario’s top doctors and then lied to us about it. His lie has led to the skyrocketing of COVID cases and a new wave of tragedy in our nursing homes.

Ontario reported 1,575 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, its highest daily number to date.

Ninety-nine people have died from a new coronavirus infection in the province in the past seven days.

– With files from Colin D’Mello and Phil Tsekouras of CTV News Toronto

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