The latest provincial modelling data shows that lockdown measures have slowed the spread of COVID-19 in Toronto, but case growth has not yet plateaued.
During a data modelling presentation at Queen’s Park on December 10, Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said the number of people testing positive province-wide for COVID-19 is flattening.
However, he said data for Toronto shows cases continue to grow dramatically among people with the lowest access to suitable housing or employment outside essential areas, namely people who can’t work from home such as factory and grocery store workers.
Public health restrictions are not impacting these people in Toronto, he said, noting people who live in multi-generational households have higher case growth than those with access to suitable housing. But case infection rates are still increasing among both groups.
“We’re going to need to have a comprehensive approach to supporting these communities if we are going to control the pandemic,” he said. “It requires attention to these long-standing structural factors.”
Mayor John Tory said earlier this week the city is turning decommissioned TTC buses into pop-up testing sites to reach people in lower-income areas with high positivity rates, such as Rexdale.
The city is also increasing bus frequency on busy routes to allow for physical distancing, specifically on 36 Finch West, 35 Jane, 105 Markham, 54 Lawrence East, 41 Keele and 29 Dufferin.
The mayor also said many workers are reluctant to get tested for fear of losing employment or income. This issue has yet to be addressed by the other levels of government, he said.
Brown said data from cellphones reveals that current public health restrictions are having less of an impact on mobility in the Greater Toronto Area than in the spring.
Data from the University of Toronto, St. Michael’s Hospital and AI firm Bluedot show the percentage of mobile devices leaving homes sloping upward.
Brown added this data does not reflect the impact of the most recent lockdown measures, but preliminary analysis of the newer restrictions shows only a one per cent drop in mobility.
“When I’m required to drive on the highways, the traffic load is very similar to a non-COVID season,” Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said. “There is a lot of people on the move. We have to get that down and limit that somehow.”
Williams said 83 per cent of Ontario’s cases are occurring in red and lockdown zones of the provincial COVID-19 response framework, but concerning increases are happening in other regions.
“We’re in a really precarious stage here,” he said. “And we have to really watch this carefully if we are not going to have to close some things further.
“We’re bending the curve a bit,” he added. “The data shows we are slowing the rate of increase, but we have to do better than that. We have to flatten it. We have to show some downward trend.”
Toronto and Peel Region are in lockdown and Durham Region, Halton Region, Hamilton and Waterloo are in the red level of the framework.
York Region and Windsor-Essex will move into lockdown just after midnight on December 14, the province said on Friday.
Williams also said more outbreaks are occurring in hospitals, affecting staffing levels. He also said data shows school kids who test positive for COVID-19 are primarily contracting the virus at home, not in the school environment.
Williams said he would not be surprised to see daily case counts pass the the 2,000 mark over the next few days.