"Alarm bells are ringing louder" - Ontario's top doctor submits new recommendations to cabinet

Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health, looks on during the daily COVID-19 press briefing at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Steve Russell - POOL

Ontario's typically calm chief medical officer of health expressed concern and even vented frustration Thursday, as he said new recommendations for public health measures to curb COVID-19 spread are with Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet.

"Alarm bells are ringing louder and louder," Dr. David Williams said, as Ontario reported a record high for new cases at 797, with 57 per cent under the age of 40.

While Toronto's chief medical officer of health recommended a week ago the province prohibit indoor dining in her city for four weeks, along with several other measures, Williams wouldn't give specifics of what he suggested to the premier.

"The timing of it, I can't really say or the content yet at this time," he said. "When the time is right, I'm sure the minister and the premier would be forthcoming with any announcements in a timely fashion."

"I would say stay tuned."

Williams and Dr. Dirk Huyer, chief coroner and executive lead on the COVID-19 testing approach, said there's various factors of concern regarding Ontario's current second wave.

"In mid-September, we saw 80 per cent of the cases associated with outbreaks being people under age 40, more recently, we're seeing the age associated with outbreaks dropping down to a much lower percentage of younger people," Huyer said, noting that's coupled with upticks in retirement homes and long-term care.

"So again, speaking about the more vulnerable, the more at-risk."

Huyer also said they're seeing more cases outside the hotspots of Toronto, Peel and Ottawa, with more spread in places like Halton, Simcoe County, Muskoka, eastern Ontario, Waterloo and Durham.

Williams also said positivity rates are worrisome because the average is at 2.1 per cent, which has never happened before, while cities like Toronto and Ottawa are around 3 per cent.

All this has led to a strain on contact tracing Dr. Williams said, where in the first wave staff was locating 10 to 12 contacts, whereas now it's up to 50 to 75 and in some cases 100.

"I don't understand that, why would you have that kind of thing? What did you not understand about our messaging when we asked you to maintain those steps?" he said, noting too many people didn't take public health measures seriously as social circles "imploded."

Given the nature of the briefing about what it will mean for hospitalizations and intensive care two weeks from now, Williams was asked if he felt a responsibility to act sooner.

"The public health measures are measures that we need to put in place sometimes when people aren't doing their public health measures and that's the concerning part, you can limit things around certain actions, people can still ignore that and walk around that if they want, I don't agree with that," he said.