By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter
Durham surpassed 1,000 active cases as the province announced its second state of emergency plan Tuesday.
Durham reported 108 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total active cases in the region to 1,049. Of those, 1,005 are in home isolation, and 44 are in hospital, 16 of which are in the ICU.
Durham has also seen 249 deaths, 202 of which were seniors in long-term care and retirement homes.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the state of emergency, effective immediately, in a news conference Tuesday afternoon, with a stay-at-home order beginning Thursday, Jan. 14 at 12:01 a.m.
Under this order, Ford says everyone must stay home and only travel for essential trips, such as groceries and medical appointments.
He says there will soon be some “really dark days ahead,” noting now more than ever everyone needs to do their part – “stay home, save lives, protect our health care system,” adding the system is on the “brink of collapse.”
“We’re at levels we have never seen before,” says Ford, adding cases and deaths are at the highest levels since the start of the pandemic.
He notes community spread also continues to escalate.
“I know everyone is tired. I know everyone is sick of COVID, including myself, I know everyone wants to return to normal,” Ford continues, who notes reports and data show one-third of Ontarians are not following public health guidelines.
With many still travelling and gathering, he says it just takes a moment to let the guard down, and that’s when it strikes. It’s a story he says he’s hearing too many times.
“Think of the teenager out with their friends, not wearing their mask. They go home, pass it to their parents. Later that day at dinner, the virus passes from parents to grandparents. Within days, the grandparent is in the ICU and tragically passes.”
“Stories like this are why we need to stay home, save lives,” he adds. “My friends, I know the stay-at-home order is a drastic measure, one we don’t take lightly. Everyone must stay home to save lives.”
As part of the new restrictions under the state of emergency, outdoor gatherings are now reduced to a limit of five people.
As well, people are required to wear a mask in all indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open, as well as outdoors when being physically distanced or more than two metres apart isn’t possible.
All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, may only be open between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. However, these restricted hours do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants offering takeout or delivery.
Furthermore, non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction, exempting survey.
Ford also notes enforcement and inspections will increase. He says local police, bylaw officers and workplace inspectors will be enforcing these new measures, noting, “bad actors who are caught, they will get fined.”
The province will be cracking down on big box stores as well, he adds.
Ontario health officials reported 2,903 new COVID cases Tuesday, bringing the total number of active cases across the province to 29,478.
In all, as of Tuesday, Ontario has seen 226,908 cases of COVID-19.
Back to school
So far, students in Durham Region will still be heading back to school for in-person learning on Jan. 25.
However, students in hot-spot regions – Toronto, Peel, Hamilton, York, and Windsor-Essex – will now be continuing with virtual learning until Feb. 10.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health will be providing updates and recommendations on the remaining regions, including Durham Region, by Jan. 20.
New safety measures will also be implemented when students return for in-person learning.
Masking is now required for students in Grades 1 through 3, and students will be required to wear masks while also outdoors.
There will also be enhanced screening protocols and the province will be expanding its targeted testing.
“As I’ve said from the beginning, when it comes to our children, I will not take any unnecessary risks,” says Ford.
Support for Ontarians
Ford says the government will be supporting people in businesses through these tough times, noting the 24-7 off-peak electricity rate that is in place, providing $200 per child for the parents, and working with the federal government to put in place a new CERB program to help families and workers.
He also notes the wage subsidy and rent relief program available to help businesses, as well as the new Ontario Small Business Support grant of up to $20,000 to help owners.
The enforcement of residential evictions has also been suspended.
Ford says as everyone stays home, the government continues to do everything it can to fight the virus.
“My friends, we’re strong, we are resilient. I’ve seen how tough we can be through the first wave and beyond, and as I’ve safe before, tough times don’t last but tough people do, and we have the toughest people in the world right here in Ontario.”