Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the advice his government ignored when drafting its COVID-19 framework was “one doctor’s opinion,” even though the province’s public health agency says it stands behind it.
“I appreciate the doc voicing her opinion, I really do,” the premier told reporters Thursday from a Hamilton, Ont. shipyard where he was making a jobs announcement.
“The fact is [chief medical officer of health] Dr. David Williams came to us with a framework and cabinet approved that framework.”
Dr. Shelley Deeks, chief health protection officer of Public Health Ontario, told The Toronto Star that Ford’s government set some infection rate thresholds four times higher than her agency recommended.
Earlier: Premier Doug Ford defends his government’s COVID-19 plan. Story continues after video.
Under Ford’s framework, a region doesn’t move into the “red” zone until it has a positivity rate of 10 per cent and a weekly incidence rate of 100 cases per 100,000 people. Public Health Ontario had said that should happen when a positivity rate hits 2.5 per cent and a weekly incidence rate hits 25 cases per 100,000 people, according to The Star’s report.
Public Health Ontario stands behind Deeks’ comments, the agency told HuffPost Canada by email Thursday.
Ontario’s other political leaders now say Ford was lying when he said the framework was based on science and data.
“Doug Ford and Christine Elliott repeatedly said they were taking the advice of medical experts when they cancelled public health measures in hot zones. They lied. They gambled with people’s lives ...” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca called The Star’s story “a jaw-dropping scandal.”
“In the last 24-hours alone, Ontario’s nursing homes saw 24 new deaths. That’s one grandparent lost every hour because of Doug Ford’s lies. He has betrayed these grieving families,” he said in a statement.
“That’s one grandparent lost every hour because of Doug Ford’s lies.”
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said Ford needs to show more respect for public health experts.
“I was really disappointed that Ford would so casually dismiss the recommendations of Public Health Ontario’s chief health protection officer as ‘one doctor’s views,’” he said.
“If this is the level of respect Doug Ford has for medical experts leading the fight against COVID-19, then we are in serious trouble.”
The Ford government’s framework has been widely criticized since it was made public on Nov. 3 and is already being ignored in favour of stricter rules by some municipalities.
Toronto, for example, says it will go into the red zone this weekend, even though its positivity rate is lower than the province’s 10-per-cent threshold. That city’s top doctor is also adding her own restrictions on top of what the province says is the red zone protocol.
Positivity rates are an important indicator of how well COVID-19 is being contained. Epidemiologists generally agree that the safe level is below three per cent, according to Harvard Global Health Institute.
Toronto’s latest positivity rate was 5.9 per cent.
Ford has defended his framework as a “baseline” that jurisdictions can work with.
“This framework was given to us through Dr. Williams and his team. And we went forward with it,” Ford said Thursday.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t change this. Nothing in this pandemic is concrete.”
Dr. Williams did not directly answer when asked if he’d tell cabinet to change course.
“We’re going to be asking our table to keep looking at what’s happening.”
“Nothing in this pandemic is concrete.”
Dr. Williams and the other doctors leading Ontario’s response to COVID-19 released scary new projections Thursday.
If the number of new cases in Ontario rises by five per cent per day, the province will see 6,500 new cases a day by mid-December. Under a three per cent growth rate, it would be 2,500 cases daily. The rate of growth was six per cent over the last three days and four per cent over the last week, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown said.
“Key indicators of the pandemic continue to worsen,” Dr. Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, told reporters Thursday.
Just two weeks ago, it had been predicted that new daily infections would hold steady between 800 and 1,200 for a while.
Surgeries could be cancelled
Dr. Brown added that under any of the latest projected scenarios, intensive care occupancy would exceed the key threshold of 150 beds across the province.
“It’s that point at which we need to start cancelling planned surgeries and we can no longer deliver the full slate of planned care right now,” he said.
The Ontario Medical Association, which represents tens of thousands of physicians, urged the provincial government to lower thresholds that determine when restrictions should be tightened — by as much as 50 per cent in some cases.
Ontario reported 1,575 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday — a new record — and 18 more deaths. On five of the past six days, Ontario’s number of new cases has set a new record.
With files from The Canadian Press