BY ALEX GREGORY
The choice is clear – adapt to new guidelines or face an even worse situation as COVID-19 case counts spike in Peel. That was the stark message delivered by municipal representatives this past week, as Peel reached a record high number of one day confirmed cases, surpassing Toronto on Wednesday as the largest driver of the virus.
The region currently sits in the “Red (Restrict)” level of the province’s COVID- 19 framework, unveiled earlier this month, and restaurants, bars and gyms face additional restrictions as public health officials and medical units at local hospital struggle to avoid a “dire situation” with hospitals unable to see patients.
“The virus is fully unleashed,” Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said in a stark press conference, urging residents to follow public health guidelines and referring to additional measures suggested by the region’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Lawrence Loh, this past weekend. Since September, COVID-19 test positivity rates have steadily crept upwards, with recent weekly rates of testing showing positivity at two-to-three times the provincial average.
Noting that provincial directives didn’t go far enough, Peel Public Health introduced additional measures, including a request to limit travel to only essential needs and not socializing with members outside one’s household. Elective surgeries at some local hospitals, such as Brampton Civic, have also been cancelled, with William Osler Health System representatives explaining that they are near capacity in their COVID-19 isolation wards, and in danger of being forced to turn patients away.
“These directives are strict, but they are what is needed to keep people in Peel working and learning, and able to access food, medical care and the basics of everyday life,” Loh said on Saturday. The measures allow local authorities to take a “tailored approach” to the situation on the ground in Peel, said Crombie, who also acknowledged the impact the pandemic has had on businesses that were expecting to increase their indoor seating under the provincial “Orange (Restrict)” level.
“To all our small business owners, I’m sorry you weren’t able to reopen to the degree you anticipated,” said Crombie, who indicated that owners were “blindsided” by the provincial announcement. Under the current restrictions, bars and restaurants can serve up to 10 people indoors and gyms can reopen with a maximum of 50 people per facility. The situation requires residents to be more vigilant than ever to protect their local hospitals, said Caledon Mayor Allan Thompson.
“Our most urgent priority right now is to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus in our community to prevent even stricter lockdown measures, which nobody wants,” Thompson said Wednesday. Local MPPs in Brampton also took the province to task this week over their decision to emphasize existing testing facilities instead of committing additional resources to fight the virus. “Our community is in crisis.
We need more resources, not press releases that make the government look like they’re doing more than they actually are,” said Brampton North MPP Kevin Yarde, who was present with several members of the Ontario NDP caucus to demand additional testing centres and support structures in the city.