TORONTO - Soaring COVID-19 case numbers in Ontario's most populous city prompted local authorities to scale back their contact tracing efforts on Saturday as tightened public health restrictions took effect in some of the province's other hardest-hit regions.
Toronto Public Health said the rapid increase in the city's case load has made it necessary to make a "strategic shift" in its approach to tracing those who may have been in contact with a COVID-19 patient. The recent trend continued on Saturday, with Toronto accounting for 284 of the 653 new cases reported across the province.
Toronto Public Health spokeswoman Lenore Bromley said officials previously tried to connect with all close contacts of infected residents, but the current case load makes such an approach unsustainable.
"We are now shifting to case and contact management that is focused on the most high-risk cases," Bromley said in a statement. "We are focusing on people whose infection poses the most risk to others. The current high case count demands that we make this change and push for new public health measures."
The city's top doctor outlined a laundry list of potential measures on Friday as she called on the provincial government to take stronger action in its efforts to fight the global pandemic.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, suggested the province ban indoor restaurant and bar service for four weeks — two incubation periods for the virus — suspend indoor fitness classes and sports, and ask people to only leave their homes for essential trips.
De Villa said while she has some authority to make such changes under existing public health regulations, she received legal advice suggesting it would be "unprecedented" for a local medical officer of health to enact such sweeping measures.
Her proposals far exceeded the stricter public health precautions that went into effect on Saturday in Ontario's three current COVID-19 hot spots.
The provincial government imposed lower gathering limits on several businesses across Ottawa, Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region, which have all registered high virus case tallies in recent weeks.
Restaurants, bars, banquet halls and gyms in those areas now face restrictions on their operations.
No more than 100 customers are allowed in restaurants and no more than six people will be permitted at a table.
Restaurants will also be required to collect contact information from all patrons to bolster contact tracing efforts.
Group exercise classes at gyms will be capped at 10 people and the total number of people in fitness settings will be limited to 50.
At meeting and event facilities — such as banquet halls — there will be a cap of 50 people, with only six people allowed at each table.
The new regulations took effect a day after the province made face coverings mandatory in all indoor public settings across Ontario.
Saturday's case count, meanwhile, included a spike in deaths that the provincial health minister attributed to an ongoing data review at Toronto Public Health.
Christine Elliott said some cases and deaths that occurred in the spring or summer are only being reported now and were included in the 41 deaths recorded provincewide on Saturday.
The same thing happened on Friday, when Ontario reported an all-time high of 732 new cases along with 76 deaths.
There are now 53,633 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, including 2,968 deaths and 45,285 resolved cases.
The province was able to complete 46,254 tests in the previous 24 hours, but nearly twice that number — 91,322 — are still listed as "under investigation."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2020.