Corp Comm Connects

‘We still have a lot of work to do as a region’: 905 COVID cases persist as Stage 3 looms
July 20, 2020
Noor Javed

As municipalities across the GTA prepare to enter Stage 3 in the coming weeks, they have one message for residents: stay vigilant and wear a mask.

The 905 has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus: York Region was among the first municipalities to see travel-related cases of COVID-19 -- as early as February -- and even though more than half of Ontario’s health units are reporting zero new cases, some parts of the 905 are still in double-digit territory.

On Wednesday, Mississauga’s COVID-19 case count hit zero and the mayor couldn’t contain her excitement -- tempered with a dose of caution.

“I’m so elated, and I know, I know it will change tomorrow,” said Mayor Bonnie Crombie at the press conference. “But today is a good day, and I am celebrating.” The next day, Mississauga had five new cases.

Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s medical officer of health, said it was too early to get complacent.

“Even if we get some days …where our daily cases hit zero, even if our hospitals clear out, one lapse and we will be right in the hole, as COVID-19 continues to circulate in our community,” he said. “Experience elsewhere tells us that gains can be wiped out in an instant. We must remember what we have overcome.”

In nearby Brampton on Wednesday, there were 11 cases, down from 36 the day before.

But Mayor Patrick Brown expressed concerns about getting to Stage 3 after announcing the city had laid 14 charges for COVID-19 distancing violations over the previous week, including for a house party with at least 40 people.

“Give your head a shake, this is still not the time to have parties,” said Brown.

Many regions outside of the GTA moved to Stage 3 on Friday, allowing for increased gathering sizes, and as well as festivals, conferences, sports and recreational fitness activities -- as long as social distancing rules are applied.

Crombie said that the GTA mayors have all expressed concerns around the opening of bars and pubs, which prompted rules that bars would follow the same rules as restaurants in terms of limiting seating, and the number of patrons allowed inside at one time.

In York Region, which had 11 cases on Thursday, face coverings were made mandatory on Friday.

“Business owners and operators in York Region must have a policy in place to prohibit people from entering if they are not wearing a face mask or covering,” said Dr. Alana Fitzgerald-Husek, York Region associate medical officer of health.

However, the region said it would be focusing on “education rather than enforcement” for those not wearing masks.

“An early entry into phase 3 can have catastrophic repercussions,” said Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, adding that the mask policy is a “directive” and not a bylaw. “It’s always a balancing act between health and the economy…but we have a lot of evidence from other countries who have entered into full-blown economic activity that has forced them to go back.

“That’s the worst thing that could happen to us.”

Vaughan has been particularly hard hit in York Region, and seen almost half of the cases in the municipality. They had four new cases on Thursday.

In Peel, the councils of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon each passed a bylaw to make masks mandatory when indoors. Crombie said Mississauga would enforce the $150 fine for individuals and $300 fine for businesses if they don’t comply with the face-covering rules when indoors.

“We still have a lot of work to do as a region to drive our numbers down,” she said. “Stage 3 is a big deal. This is not something we should take lightly, or rush it.”

Crombie added that businesses should refuse entry to customers not wearing a face covering, and who don’t have an exemption.

“We know when we inevitably open up, we increase the risk of transmission,” she said

She said since the bylaw went into effect at the end of June, the city has received 100 calls to the 311 number, with questions around both enforcement and education.

In Brampton, individuals and businesses not adhering to the bylaw may be fined a minimum of $500 and maximum of up to $100,000 for each offence.