EOHU won’t match new targeted restrictions imposed on Ottawa, but other provincial COVID-19 changes coming into effect

Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis during a Zoom media update.

Walk-in service at assessment centres ceases tomorrow, Sunday, Oct. 4

EASTERN ONTARIO — The Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) isn’t following the province’s lead on heightened pandemic restrictions targeted yesterday on neighbouring Ottawa and two other urban areas. However, there are significant province-wide changes that do apply here nonetheless.

“While I applaud the government’s efforts to lower the number of cases in areas experiencing high rates of transmission, I don’t see the need at this point for targeted measures in our area,” said Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis in a press release last night responding to the additional rules announced yesterday by the Ford government for Ottawa, Peel and Toronto.  “However, we are closely monitoring the situation in Eastern Ontario and will take action if required,” added Roumeliotis.

It’s somewhat of a surprising move for Dr. Roumeliotis, who has been reluctant to see his Eastern Ontario jurisdiction subject to fewer restrictions than Ottawa, given the population movement between the communities. The last time the province targeted Ottawa with a change — by reducing the allowable size of private gatherings in a handful of cities, including the national capital — the Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health vowed to impose similar new limits using his powers under Ontario’s state of emergency. Days later, the province applied that particular rule change across Ontario. Similarly, in July Dr. Roumeliotis worked with neighbouring medical officers of health to ensure an indoor mask rule didn’t only happen in Ottawa.

As it turns out, the Ford government’s latest ratcheting up of the rules — which started coming into effect today — also makes indoor mask use mandatory everywhere in Ontario now, effectively imposing it on those few areas that didn’t yet have the requirement.

As for the special new restrictions in Ottawa, Peel and Toronto — due to their higher than average rates of transmission — those include a tightening of numbers allowed in bars, restaurants and other food and drink establishments: A maximum of 100 patrons are now permitted in those businesses, no matter their size. Rules have also increased for gyms and other fitness settings, as well as banquet halls and other meeting and event facilities in those three cities.

Province-wide, though, the government has now “paused” social circles, with a recommendation that all Ontarians limit close contacts to people living in their own household and maintain physical distancing measures with everyone else — similar to Stage 2.

“I agree with the tightening of these public health measures,” said Roumeliotis.  “The cases we are seeing in our area are mostly a result of individuals not wearing masks and failing to maintain their distance at private social gatherings. I believe these reinforced measures will help put an end to this type of transmission.”

“The modeling we released this week demonstrates the absolute necessity to take action now to reverse current trends and protect our hospital capacity,” said Premier Doug Ford at yesterday’s announcement. “With the weather changing and more people moving indoors, the decision to introduce new restrictions on restaurants, gyms and other businesses was difficult. However, we will do whatever is necessary, acting on the advice of our public health experts, to turn the tide on this second wave and keep everyone safe.”

In another significant move, Ontario’s swamped assessment centres will cease walk-in service starting tomorrow, Sunday, Oct. 4, in preparation for a shift to appointment-only testing starting Tuesday, Oct. 6. That change will allow the province’s lab network to “make significant progress in processing tests and to allow assessment centres the necessary time to reset, deep clean and ensure preparedness for the new appointment-based model,” the government says.

The EOHU says its Casselman testing centre — overrun with daily lineups of test-seekers for weeks — will be closed Oct. 5, with service relocating entirely to the new Limoges centre, in the Calypso parking lot, effective Oct. 7.

The new measures come as Ontario deals with a second wave of COVID-19 cases, yesterday recording a new daily record of 732 individuals who tested positive.

See the latest local EOHU case stats, below.

Watch the Oct. 2 provincial announcement, below.
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