Toronto is moving from trying to eradicate COVID-19 to learning to live with the virus while minimizing its negative impacts – just as we do every year with influenza, says public health chief Dr. Eileen de Villa.
She told reporters at a Friday briefing that public health officials around the world are concluding that, given how many people are being infected with COVID-19’s Omicron variant, a “COVID zero strategy” no longer makes sense.
“People are talking about eventually getting to a point where COVID is more endemic – it’s part and parcel of our background. You may see some flare-ups over time, ”that will strain the health system and kill some people, she said.
That suffering will be minimized with vaccinations, masking, distancing and ventilation, de Villa said, adding that “learning to live with COVID can be seen as akin to something along the lines of how we manage influenza on an annual basis.
“It might not be exactly like that, but it might be something that people can relate to.”
What happens to remaining pandemic restrictions after some are lifted Monday depends on “what we’re seeing on the ground,” with virus impacts, de Villa said.
She cited a need to “restore much of what we have missed by way of activities and services and all those other aspects of life that have frankly been more challenging over the last couple of years… we’ve always recognized that the experience of health and the maintenance of health is about more than any single dimension. ”
Her comments echo those a day earlier from Ontario public health chief Dr. Kieran Moore, who said that, given flattening but still high infection rates, Ontarians will need to learn to live with the virus.
“We have let our lives be controlled for the last two years in a significant amount of fear and now we are going to have to change some of that thinking,” Moore said, predicting the strain on Ontario’s health system will ease in February after one of the deadliest months in the pandemic.
De Villa said a change in Toronto’s focus from tracing contacts of all infected people, and urging them to isolate and get tested, to vaccinations and other prevention techniques, was driven by Ontario’s change in who gets tested.
Limiting publicly funded PCR tests to high-risk individuals, such as health-care workers, who are symptomatic or at high risk of severe illness means Toronto Public Health is tracing the contacts of a much smaller group who test positive.
De Villa said other data, including virus levels in Toronto wastewater data now being posted online, suggest infection levels have plateaued or are starting to drop.
But the province’s decision to ease restrictions Monday, including allowing gyms and indoor dining to reopen, will inevitably see more people mingling and increasing the number of local infections, she said.
The city announced that on Monday its community, recreation centers and arenas, youth spaces and older adult centers will reopen, with capacity limits, for activities that include fitness classes and indoor swimming and skating.
At the Friday briefing, city officials insisted they are ready for the next snowfall even though city crews are still removing snow and ice from the storm almost two weeks earlier, and residents complain about still-blocked sidewalks and bike lanes.
“There are people who are frustrated, I understand that,” Mayor John Tory said, adding that city crews did “very well” given the 55-centimeter dump.
Barbara Gray, city manager in charge of snow clearing, said city and contracted crews are ready to respond to a forecasted “significant but normal amount of snowfall.”
Tory, speaking while the city’s budget committee wrapped up its work on the 2022 spending plan, warned the provincial and federal governments that Toronto needs urgent help to bridge an estimated $ 1.4-billion shortfall created by the pandemic.
Without help, he said, Toronto will have to cancel $ 300 million in planned capital projects and “pause” more than $ 1 billion in annual maintenance for roads, sewers and other infrastructure, affecting an estimated 12,600 jobs that work creates.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION