OTTAWA -- A joint letter by the medical officers of health for three major public health units in Ontario, including Ottawa's, is calling on the Ford government to issue an immediate stay-at-home order for the province amid rising COVID-19 case counts and ICU admissions.

The joint letter is addressed to Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams. Dr. Eileen de Villa of Toronto, Dr. Lawrence C. Loh of Peel Region, and Dr. Vera Etches of Ottawa co-signed it. Etches tweeted a copy of the letter on Monday.

"Given the rapid deterioration in local indicators across our three public health units, we are writing today to make urgent comment on the decision to impose a province-wide emergency brake," the letter says. "While the implementation of additional province-wide public health measures is welcome, stronger measures will be required to reverse the surge our health units (among others) currently face."

The letter is dated April 4, one day before the Peel public health unit issued a Class 22 order to close local schools and move students to virtual learning as of April 6.

"Given the experiences of other jurisdictions with [variants of concern] (VOCs) and the current concerning trends throughout the province, we are asking that you, as Chief Medical Officer of Health, issue a province-wide stay-at-home order," the letter says. "Stricter lockdowns have been shown to be effective in other countries to control transmission while vaccine campaigns progressed to achieve sufficient population coverage to suppress transmission."

Ottawa Public Health has reported a dramatic rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since the city first moved to the "Red-Control" level on March 19. Since that time, Ottawa Public Health has reported 2,346 new cases of COVID-19. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital jumped from 23 on March 19 to 53 on April 5, while the number of people in the ICU with COVID-19 quadrupled from four to 16.

Active cases are the highest Ottawa has ever seen and the city set a one-day case count record on Saturday with 240 people testing positive.

On Monday, there were 494 patients being treated in intensive care units across Ontario with a COVID-related critical illness, the government said, an all time high for the province.

The three public health leads also called on Williams to review and trim the essential businesses list, impose travel restrictions between other regions within Ontario, introduce emergency paid sick leave and move schools to online or hybrid learning in areas where school outbreaks are significant.

According to Ottawa Public Health, there are seven COVID-19 outbreaks in Ottawa schools, involving 13 students and 6 staff members. Under provincial guidelines, a COVID-19 outbreak in a school is defined as two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students and/or staff in a school with an epidemiological link, within a 14-day period, where at least one case could have reasonably acquired their infection in the school (including transportation and before or after school care).

Ottawa's four school boards are reporting the following case loads:

  • OCDSB (As of April 4): 91 active student cases, 17 active staff cases
  • OCSB (As of April 1): 58 active student cases, 6 active staff cases
  • CEPEO (As of April 1): 10 active student cases, 7 active staff cases
  • CECCE (As of April 5): 29 active cases among students and staff (board does not make distinction)

In a Twitter thread, Etches said she is "in the process of reviewing the COVID data in schools to advise on an approach to take for schools in Ottawa."

Province says measures 'need time to work'

A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott told CTV News Toronto that the provincewide shutdown “puts in place time-limited public health and workplace safety measures to help to stop the rapid transmission of COVID-19 variants in communities, protect hospital capacity and save lives.”

“It’s critical to point out that after applying public health measures it takes time for the intended effects of the measures to be realized due to the incubation period of the virus,” Alex Hilkene said in a statement.

“Our government will continue act on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health who will review the science, data and trends along with collaborating with local medical officers of health and our team of expert health officials on if and when public health measure can be loosened or strengthened."

--With files from CTV News Toronto's Katherine DeClerq