red zone

Here's what Toronto has to do to move from the grey zone into the red zone

It's been a week since Toronto entered the new and improved grey zone of Ontario's colour-coded reopening framework, and though residents are undoubtedly happy to be able to shop at more retailers and gather with nine other friends outdoors, we're still itching to open up further like some of our neighbours.

Based on the fact that the province reassesses regions' potential to move into new zones on a two-week basis, the earliest that Toronto could transition from the grey zone into the red zone is 12:01 a.m. on Monday, March 22 — but that is all contingent upon our COVID stats.

Key health indicators such as regional ICU capacity, the proportion of people testing positive for the virus, and number of new outbreaks are taken into account, with certain threshold targets for each colour zone.

For a region in red, for example, weekly case counts are at a rate of 40 or more per 100,000 residents, per cent positivity among those tested is above 2.5 per cent and the R-naught value — that is, essentially, the reproduction factor of the infection — is 1.2 or more.

(This is compared to lower thresholds in orange, of 25 to 39.9 cases per 100,000 people, 1.3 to 2.4 per cent positivity among those tested, and an R-naught of 1 to 1.1.)

The grey zone, however, has less to do with the quantifiable ranges for these numbers, but more with whether things are worsening, and how quickly.

This most stringent lockdown zone is meant for when Premier Doug Ford and his team decide pull the emergency brake due to increasing case incidence per 100,000 people, increasing test positivity overall, and also specifically among those 70 and older, and increasing outbreaks among vulnerable populations.

Because of the state of Toronto, Peel and North Bay's health indicators when we were last to finally emerge from the province's full shutdown last week, we were placed directly into the grey zone — and to graduate out of it, our numbers have to stop rising.

Though our number of new cases per day has been gradually declining since January, numbers have been up and down for the last week, ranging from 293 to 545, with an R-naught value of 1.08, a per cent positivity of 4.3, and an average of 21 active daily COVID outbreaks when the goal is to be under 18 with a steady decline over time.

This puts our virus spread and containment in the last week as somewhat in need of attention, though not yet trending too far away from goals.

As far as the infection rate per 100,000 residents, our numbers are unfortunately climbing, albeit slowly, going from 67.3 during the week of Feb. 27 to March 5 to 80 during the week of March 5 to March 11.

Meanwhile, our ICU bed occupancy and ICU-venitlator bed occupancy rights are quite far below targets at current, while our acute bed occupancy is at 91 per cent, with the goal being below 90 per cent. This puts our health system capacity overall in good status, at or below goal, per the City of Toronto's monitoring dashboard.

Unfortunately, contact tracing isn't going too well, with 75.2 per cent of new cases contacted by public health within 24 hours, when the goal is more than 90 per cent.

Essentially, we're doing alright in some areas and not too great in others, and things are too precarious at the moment for it to be clear whether we will in fact be able to get out of grey in one week's time.

If we don't, it will be yet another two weeks in grey at least, at which point some businesses will have been shuttered for 25 weeks straight.

For their sake, let's keep doing our part to reduce virus transmission in the hopes that we can enter red as soon as possible — and be extra vigilant after that happens to evade the emergency brake.

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez


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