By: Courtney Bachar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News Staff
Kingston and the rest of Ontario is heading into a province-wide shutdown beginning Dec. 26.
All regions in southern Ontario will be in lockdown for a period of 28 days, while regions in northern Ontario will remain in lockdown for 14 days.
The shutdown comes after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Monday COVID-19 numbers are continuing to accelerate at an “alarming rate.”
“Unfortunately, despite the restrictions, we’ve seen growing numbers of people travelling between regions in Ontario,” says Ford, noting the virus is spreading rapidly from high-outbreak areas to areas with fewer cases.
Ford says hospitals are filling up more each day, with a 70 per cent increase in hospitalizations and an 80 per cent increase in ICU admissions in the past few weeks, adding 75 per cent of the intensive care unit beds, at any given time, are taken up by people with other emergencies, such as car accidents or heart attacks.
“Above all, we need to preserve capacity in our ICUs and our hospitals,” he says, noting hospitals are on the verge of needing to cancel more elective surgeries if numbers continue to increase.
Ford says while the vaccine has started to trickle in, due to the limited supply, it will be months before mass immunization.
“In the meantime, we need to do everything in our power to protect hospitals and the most vulnerable,” he says, noting the difficult action of a province-wide shutdown is, without a doubt, necessary to save lives and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks.
“Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake,” he says. “This province-wide shutdown is a temporary but one-time measure in response to the exceptional circumstances we’re facing.”
Schools will also be affected by the shutdown as students will return to school on Jan. 4 virtually across the province with a plan for students from kindergarten to Grade 8 to return to in-person learning on Jan. 11, and high school students to return to in-person learning on Jan. 25.
While Ford says schools are not part of the problem of COVID in communities, the extended closure is out of an “abundance of caution.”
“These decisions are difficult but they are absolutely critical,” says Ford.
As of the last day of school on Dec. 18, there were 51 active cases in Durham District School Board schools, and another 38 active cases in the Durham Catholic board. In total, of the 4,828 schools across the province, 976 had active cases as of Dec. 18.
Ontario reported 2,123 new infections Monday, down from the 2,316 cases reported Sunday.
Durham reported 160 new cases over the weekend with the current total at 911 active cases. There are 877 in home isolation and 34 people in the hospital, 10 of which are in the ICU.
In Oshawa, there are currently 189 cases with 21 new cases reported over the weekend. There are 183 people in home isolation and six people in hospital with one in the ICU.
Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott says despite significant investments to support the province’s hospital system, hospitalizations continue to increase and more needs to be done.
“We continue to see sharp increases in hospitalizations and ICU occupancy is reaching concerning levels,” says Elliott, noting the province-wide shutdown was a difficult but necessary step.
“This urgent and immediate action must be taken to prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed, to protect our long-term care residents and to save lives.”
Elliott says with the arrival of the vaccine, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The tunnel grows brighter every day, but we must remain vigilant,” she says. “I strongly encourage everyone to stay home and continue to follow public health measures. We’ve flattened the curve before and we can do it again.”
Just today, the province also announced that all passenger road tests would be cancelled until January 9th for Northern Ontario and January 23rd for all public health regions in Southern Ontario. “DriveTest centres will remain open for essential indoor services, such as knowledge tests, with capacity limits and COVID-19 preventative measures in place. The ministry will also continue to offer commercial road testing and other commercial vehicle services during the shutdown to ensure the continued safe movement of essential goods and services,” the statement said.
For a full list of shutdown measures, visit www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-response-framework-keeping-ontario-safe-and-open.