Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario


Ontario must enact a COVID-Zero strategy

On Nov. 20, the Ontario government imposed a 28-day lockdown for Toronto and Peel region, beginning on Nov. 23, to combat the rising cases of COVID-19. 

RNAO welcomes the announcement, but says the lockdown should have come much sooner and with more stringent regulations. As noted by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s report on Nov. 25, the province’s response to COVID-19 was slower and more reactive relative to other jurisdictions and was disorganized and inconsistent. She also said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams “did not fully exercise his powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to respond to COVID-19.”

RNAO continues to call for an aggressive and all-encompassing lockdown, followed by an effective and concerted strategy to snuff out the virus – a “COVID-Zero” strategy. 

A COVID-Zero strategy entails a short period of stringent lockdown, with travel bans, very limited contact between persons, staying home for those who can (except for essential purposes), accompanied by comprehensive testing – including rapid testing – of key segments of the population and isolation of those who test positive. The intent is to break the reproduction cycle of the virus. Once the lockdown achieves its goal of drastically reducing community transmission, we can proactively use testing to control cases and outbreaks.

RNAO says the government’s lockdown, which limits shopping in retail businesses to curbside pick-up, limits dining in restaurants to takeout, and closes gyms, hair salons and other personal care services does not go far enough to suppress the virus and stop it in its tracks. For example, the measures do not go far enough for places of worship and do not affect people who live in York Region and other red zones, including Hamilton, Halton, Durham and Waterloo. There were no measures in the announcement to prevent persons bringing the virus from one region to another. There were insufficient measures to diminish non-essential movement and socializing. There were no restrictions to ensure big box stores that remain open reduce their spreading impact, such as closing non-essential sections of the store.

RNAO knows the burden of COVID-19 illness and death will fall once again on vulnerable, racialized and marginalized neighbourhoods and populations that do not have adequate resources to protect themselves during a lockdown.

In a press conference on Nov. 13, RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun and Dr. Nathan Stall, geriatrician from Sinai Health System spoke about the lack of action in long-term care. About 1,800 long-term care residents died in the province between March and May, making up around two-thirds of all COVID-19 deaths. After a lull in the summer, long-term care outbreaks have begun to increase. 

RNAO has been clear about the urgency of an LTC Nursing Home Basic Care Guarantee to keep residents and staff safe. Responsibility for the death toll in long-term care falls squarely on decision-makers who have known for years – and have seen consistently for the past eight months – the ensuing tragedy caused by their inaction. We have also insisted that essential care partners must be allowed to be with their loved ones – in all nursing homes – and we have made government aware that not all homes comply.

Nurses call on the Ontario government to immediately take a COVID-Zero approach to COVID-19 and call on the public to fully engage in protecting themselves and others. In addition, the province must immediately adopt the Nursing Home Basic Care Guarantee and begin hiring and adding staff to long-term care homes so they can provide the four worked hours of direct nursing and personal care per resident, per day. 

To learn more, please read our media release. Also, to learn more about the effects of COVID-19 on long-term care, please watch our press conference from Nov. 13. We also urge you to add your voice to our action alert and on Twitter use our hashtag #4Hours4Seniors.

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