COVID-19 Updates - June 5th
Anti-Black racism is real and pervasive in our city and our country. I stand in solidarity with the Torontonians who have been marching in our streets, and all those taking a stand against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and violence.
I believe that we need to take a real, hard look at our institutions, including policing and our justice systems. We cannot continue to let anti-Black racism, and discrimination against other marginalized groups, continue unchecked.
Anti-Black racism also manifests in poverty, in housing discrimination, in cuts to social and community programs. Anti-Black racism is a public health crisis, and we are seeing the tragic results in health outcomes, including the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19.
I believe that we must prioritize addressing these inequities head-on. The City works to apply an equity lens on every budget decision it makes, which is a good first step, but more must be done. We need to step up our investments in affordable housing, community services, jobs and employment training, accessible public transit, and mental health supports.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to write to my office over the past few days. I appreciate your thoughts and feedback on these important issues. I agree that we can and must do more to truly tackle anti-Black racism and discrimination within our city.
In this Edition
- Update on Toronto Public Health’s Case and Contact Management Work
- Tackling the Overdose and Opioid Poisoning Crisis
- Toronto Public Health Plans for Restaurants and Businesses
- New Bike Lanes on Wellington and Douro Streets
- Update on Airbnb and Short-term Rentals
- Toronto Launches CaféTO Plan to Help Create More Outdoor Space for Local Restaurants and Bars
- City of Toronto Modular Housing Initiative Progressing Quickly
- Updates from Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health
- Take Action: Toronto in Crisis - It’s Time for a New Deal for Toronto
- Supporting Toronto’s Arts and Cultural Sector
- Toronto COVID-19 Resource Map
- Staying Healthy and Resilient During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Supporting Local Businesses
- Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 When Spending Time Outdoors
- Working Collaboratively for Spadina-Fort York
- COVID-19 Information and Resources
Update on Toronto Public Health’s Case and Contact Management Work
Case and contact management is the work that public health units do to contain virus spread and keep people safe. This means contacting anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and tracing all their contacts, to see who may have been exposed, and get them tested and self-isolating. It’s a key element of our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When a patient tests positive for COVID-19, they are informed of the result directly by their own doctor or medical professional. These results are then sent to the area’s local public health unit – Toronto Public Health for residents of Toronto – by the doctor and/or testing lab. Public Health staff are responsible for following up with the patient to make sure they are self-isolating, and to begin the case and contact tracing process.
Staff at the local public health unit ask a series of detailed questions in order to establish a list of the patient’s contacts over the past two weeks. They then notify those people that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, and provide instructions on testing and self-isolation. Staff continue to engage with anyone who has tested positive through daily phone calls and checkups over a two-week period.
Earlier this week, our Medical Officer of Health gave an update on where we are with this important work. Right now, TPH staff are contacting over 88% of people who test positive for COVID-19 within 24 hours, and scaling up to reach a target of 90%.
As the province’s testing capacity continues to increase, case and contact tracing work will only grow. At the same time, as we begin to restore more normal activities and more people go back to work, each patient’s individual contacts are likely to increase significantly.
It is important to note that our provincial public health systems were not designed for a global pandemic. These systems were intended for isolated outbreaks that impact a small number of people. As a result, there are frequently delays from the time a person is tested to when public health units receive results and can begin the case and contact management process.
Toronto Public Health has worked overtime to rapidly adapt and scale up to meet this challenge. TPH has increased the number of staff working on case and contact management from 50 staff to over 550 staff and volunteers – a team larger than the total number of employees at many local health departments.
TPH has also partnered with the University of Toronto and Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, who have connected TPH to 170 nurses for this work, and other local public health units. And rather than rely on the Province’s outdated, 15-year-old data management system, the City of Toronto built our own data management program CORES in just eight weeks, to better and more quickly track local test results, hospitalizations, and deaths. We are also conducting area-based data and analysis to track the impact of COVID-19 on different communities in our city.
We are still learning about this virus. Toronto Public Health is committed to continuing to adapt our systems to meet new challenges. But we also need province-wide changes. Right now, TPH staff often get incomplete or delayed results from testing labs. This means it takes longer for staff to contact patients, and trace and inform people. We need the Province to create a standardized template for lab reports, which will ensure that public health units have complete information in a timely manner, for case and contact management.
Tackling the Overdose and Opioid Poisoning Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only public health crisis in Toronto. Over the past four years, 14,000 Canadians have died from an opioid overdose. These people are our friends, relatives, neighbours. And many have died due to opioid poisoning — the result of toxic, tainted drugs that continue to circulate throughout our city.
Law-and-order and prohibition approaches have proven ineffective when it comes to opioids and the overdose crisis. Public health data and research show that harm reduction and safe supply approaches work. The reality is that the longer we wait to act, the more people will die.
COVID-19 has intensified this crisis, by closing many services (or significantly reducing the hours and capacity) that people who use drugs rely on, including supervised consumption sites. As a result, this April tragically saw the highest number of suspected overdose deaths since 2017.
We cannot continue with the status quo. We need a new public health approach for people who use drugs, one that ensures they have access to services that can keep them safe. This approach must include new approaches for harm reduction and treatment services, including safe supply.
A new report from Toronto's Medical Officer of Health outlines a number of recommendations for the Board of Health to take action on the opioid crisis. One of the recommendations is to ask the Ontario Government to remove the cap on supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites. We know that these sites save lives, yet the province has restricted any more from operating.
The report also calls for the federal and provincial governments to support the City’s move towards a safe supply approach. In safe supply programs, people who use drugs are able to safely access legal, regulated prescription opioids as part of treatment. This means they do not have to not rely on drugs acquired elsewhere that may be poisoned or tainted by fatal substances, including fentanyl.
A safe supply approach would make it possible for people who use drugs to have access to opioid agonist therapy (iOAT) as a treatment option, and would allow community organizations to operate flexible injectable hydromorphone programs. The Board of Health has also requested that the Ontario Minister of Health support safe supply by adding hydromorphone to the Ontario Drug Benefit Formula, in order to help safe supply and managed opioid programs operate.
The report includes other recommendations, such as expanding access and distribution of naloxone, a life-saving treatment that can reverse overdoses, and more investment in harm reduction treatment and supports.
From 2015 to 2018, the number of deaths due to opioid overdose in our city increased by 119%. Last year, 295 people lost their lives. These deaths are a tragic loss for our city and our communities, and in many cases, are preventable.
In recent months, we have turned to our public health experts to guide us through the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve heeded their advice and followed their directives. Now, it’s time we did the same when it comes to protecting people who use drugs.
Toronto Public Health Plans for Restaurants and Businesses
As we continue to move ahead with reopening and recovery in our city, we must ensure that everyone’s safety is the top priority. That’s why Toronto Public Health is developing safety rules and guidelines for when more businesses, including restaurants, are permitted to open.
Restaurants are currently closed, with the exception of delivery and takeout, by the Government of Ontario's Emergency Order. This also applies to personal service settings (hair salons, barbershops, tattoo parlours, etc.).
Toronto Public Health is now advising these business owners to take proactive steps to plan for reopening, if and when the Province’s order changes. TPH guidelines for physical distancing, cleaning and disinfection for restaurants are here, and for personal service settings are here.
In the coming week, City staff will be reaching out to business owners and local BIAs, to discuss how service can resume safely once the order is lifted. Restaurant and personal service settings that have a current licence can prepare to reopen when the provincial orders are lifted.
If a business needs a new license, they can email email@example.com for a contact-free process. More information is available here.
New Bike Lanes on Wellington and Douro Streets
If we are committed to creating safer streets that move more people more quickly, it is critical that we invest in new cycling infrastructure. Expanding the cycling grid across all neighbourhoods is one crucial step we must take to ensure our streets are safe for all.
I’m pleased to announce that installation is complete for our new bike lanes on Douro Street between King Street West and Strachan Avenue, and Wellington Street West between Strachan Avenue and Niagara Street.
These new bike lanes provide dedicated spaces for cyclists and improve safety for all road users, and connect to other current and future cycling infrastructure in the area, including the King-Liberty Pedestrian/Cycle Bridge, the Garrison Crossing Pedestrian/Cycle Bridge, and eventually the West Toronto Railpath Extension from Sudbury Street.
Update on Airbnb and Short-term Rentals
In April, the Ontario Government issued a temporary ban on Airbnb and other short-term rental companies from operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning today, the Province has lifted the ban, meaning that short-term rentals are now longer restricted under the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
In Toronto, short-term rentals are regulated by the City’s bylaws. Any resumption of operation must be in accordance with these bylaws. The bylaws permit short-term rentals (any rental that is less than 28 consecutive days) across the city in principal residences only. Within their principal residence, people can rent up to three rooms or their entire home.
Along with a number of other City services, the licensing and registration of short-term rentals has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the City’s emergency response. Right now, the City is working to determine new implementation timelines for finalizing the licensing and registration process.
City staff are continuing to respond to short-term rental issues on a complaints basis.You can report a short-term rental that is in violation of the rules, or a noise and waste infraction, by calling 311 with a complaint.
I will continue to work with City staff to push for a speedy implementation of licensing and registration for Airbnb and other short-term rental companies. We have been working on this for three years now, in order to be able to fully enforce the rules that were approved by Council in 2017. I continue to be concerned about the impact that short-term rentals have had on our rental housing market, and on community safety and liveability due to the rise of ghost hotels, and will provide more updates as soon as they become available.
Toronto Launches CaféTO Plan to Help Create More Outdoor Space for Local Restaurants and Bars
The City will make it easier for restaurant and bar owners to open patios, expand them, and access additional space for physical distancing. These measures will make it easier for restaurant and bar owners to generate business revenue during the summer months ahead.
The CaféTO program will increase outdoor dining areas by identifying space in the public right-of-way and temporarily expediting the current application and permitting process for new sidewalk cafés and parklets.
Right now, restaurants and bars (including patios) remain closed due to provincial orders and public health recommendation, with the exception of delivery and take out service. Final details will depend on how and when provincial restrictions are lifted. I have asked City staff to ensure that the final CaféTO plans include appropriate measures to mitigate noise and other impacts for neighbours. Read here for more information.
City of Toronto Modular Housing Initiative Progressing Quickly
Within a month of receiving Council approval, the plan to expedite delivery of Phase 1 of the City of Toronto’s Modular Housing Initiative is well underway. The program is on track to provide stable, affordable, high-quality housing and support services to 100 individuals experiencing homelessness by the fall of 2020.
A key component of the expedited delivery is site identification. City and CreateTO staff have been evaluating City-owned land across Toronto using criteria that included local demand for affordable housing, development potential of the site, local infrastructure, access to public transit, access to health and other community services, as well as zoning and other bylaw considerations. Following the rigorous evaluation process, the following two sites are being recommended for Phase 1 of the Modular Housing Initiative:
- 150 Harrison St. (Ward 9): 44 bachelor apartments. This is the former site of the 14 Division Police Station.
- 11 Macey Ave. (Ward 20): 56 bachelor apartments. Near Victoria Park and Danforth.
The City will select qualified, non-profit housing providers to manage each site. The modular homes will be pre-fabricated and installed on site. The modular buildings will include self-contained bachelor units with kitchens and washrooms. Each location will also have a shared communal kitchen and administrative and program space. Images of modular housing sites in Vancouver as well as renderings, providing examples of what the two Toronto sites may look like, can be found on the City’s website.
The community engagement process is starting shortly with online events planned for each location. Community members are encouraged to engage in this process before the housing is built and remain involved after residents have moved in. The City is seeking feedback on building and site design elements, such as lighting, pathways and landscaping, as well as ideas for how to support and welcome the residents into the neighbourhoods. Learn more here.
Updates from Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health
Our Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, and other City division leaders have been providing daily updates on the current situation and response to COVID-19 in Toronto. You can view the daily press conferences live at 3:45pm, and access past updates here.
Today Dr. de Villa shared an update regarding public health guidance that is being provided for when more businesses, including restaurants, are permitted to open.
Toronto Public Health is now advising these business owners to take proactive steps to plan for reopening, if and when the Province’s order changes. TPH guidelines for physical distancing, cleaning and disinfection are here.
Dr. de Villa also spoke about her support for the City’s ActiveTO initiatives in helping everyone to stay healthy through physical activity by creating more space for physical distancing. She also reminded us that it is important that we all continue to only go out with members of our own household. We know that this is difficult, especially as more time passes, but we need to continue to practise physical distancing so that all of our progress over the last couple of months won’t be lost.
Read Dr. de Villa’s past updates here.
Take Action: Toronto in Crisis - It’s Time for a New Deal for Toronto
We know that our cities can lead the way to recovery and become stronger and more sustainable than ever before — but only if we invest in them. That's why we need a New Deal for cities.
Progress Toronto has put together a petition urging the Federal and Provincial governments to provide immediate financial relief to cities and commit to a new deal that will help build a Toronto that works for everyone.
Just as so many of us are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table, COVID-19 emergency spending alongside decades of underfunding has pushed City Hall to a financial breaking point. If our Federal and Provincial partners don't step up, we could see massive cuts to vital services that we all depend on, including increased TTC fares, higher fees for community services and child care, and cuts to libraries, rec centres, and emergency fire services.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Take action and make your voice heard by signing the petition here.
Supporting Toronto’s Arts and Cultural Sector
Our vibrant arts and cultural sector is critical to the fabric of our city. There are many ways to continue to support Toronto arts and culture from home:
- City Hall Live Online: To help support Toronto artists and lift the spirits of residents during this outbreak, the City of Toronto, in partnership with Unison Benevolent Fund, has moved its City Hall Live performance program online.
- Arts@Home: Bringing Toronto’s arts sector together for you, delivered straight to your couch. Many of Toronto’s leading arts organizations are reaching beyond traditional practice to come together and freely share digital content that brings the arts into your home.
- Stay, Play & Learn at Home: Tour a museum exhibit, watch a live concert, play interactive games, do DIY science experiments, try a new recipe, and much more.
City of Toronto COVID-19 Resource Map
The City of Toronto has created a COVID-19 Essential Service Mapping Tool.
This tool has up-to-date service listings across Toronto, including food banks, meal delivery programs, community health services and more. Additional layers and details are being updated daily by 211 Toronto.
Staying Healthy and Resilient During the COVID-19 Pandemic - Advice from Toronto Public Health and Available Supports
We’ve all had to endure a great deal of change over these last couple of months. It’s been an adjustment, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. It’s okay to not feel okay. But through all of this, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together.
It’s also important for all of us to remember to care for our own mental health during this time. In previous updates I shared tips and resources from Toronto Public Health on staying emotionally healthy and resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please click here to view and share.
If you need access to, or are seeking information on social and community supports and services, you can call 211 for non-emergency requests and information.
Through 211, operators can connect residents to income supports, distress lines, and mental health supports. You can call 211 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, text 21166, live chat with 211 agents Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., or visit 211toronto.ca to search for services.
Supporting Local Businesses
Our small and independent businesses are vital to the fabric of our city, and it’s critical that we support them as much as possible during these difficult and uncertain times. Here are some ways we can all do our part:
- Shop local: although businesses have had to close their doors to the public to allow for physical distancing, many are still offering takeout and delivery options. Many local fitness studios and gyms are offering online classes. Some businesses that provide in-person services are offering pre-booking and gift cards for future use. Contact your favourite local business to see how you can support them during this challenging time.
- Donate through distantly.ca: the City of Toronto is highlighting the launch of an online donation platform that allows community members to make direct donations to small businesses to help lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This platform allows customers to continue to support local main street businesses impacted by non-essential closures, such as coffee shops, restaurants and hair salons. Visit distantly.ca to learn more and donate.
- Participate in #TakeOutDay: a Canada-wide campaign, #TakeOutDay is now every Wednesday as a show of support for our favourite local restaurants. Restaurants are doing their part by staying open for takeout. Now it's your turn to take an active part in support of an industry that employs millions of people across our country. Let's make Wednesdays #TakeoutDay. Learn more at canadatakeout.com
Advice from Toronto Public Health on Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 When Spending Time Outdoors
Now that the warmer weather has arrived, many people are spending time outdoors for physical and mental health.
When spending time outdoors, refer to this information from Toronto Public Health;
- COVID-19 spreads through contact with respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, or talking
- Droplets can spread up to 6 feet (2 metres) so close, prolonged contact poses the highest risk
- When cycling, running, or walking, step aside or pass others quickly and courteously
- The risk for catching COVID-19 while passing someone is low
If sick, you must stay home and self-isolate
- People are most contagious when they are sick, or 48 hours before they show symptoms
- Limit contact with other household members
- Refer to fact sheets on how to self-isolate
Working Collaboratively for Spadina-Fort York
The rapidly-evolving COVID-19 response requires all levels of government to work closely together.
I am in regular contact with my Provincial and Federal counterparts regarding the evolving COVID-19 response and how to best support Spadina-Fort York residents, businesses, institutions, and organizations.
Please visit their websites for more information on the Provincial and Federal responses:
COVID-19 Information and Resources
It is important to stay informed through credible sources, and to follow the advice of our public health professionals. Together we can limit the spread of COVID-19.
Please visit the Toronto Public Health COVID-19 website for the up-to-date information and resources: toronto.ca/covid-19
Government COVID-19 websites
Call if you develop symptoms.
Toronto Public Health Hotline
8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Call if you have questions about COVID-19.
Outside City limits: 416-392-2489
Call if you have questions about City services.