Update on City's Response and Preparedness Plan for COVID-19
This afternoon I joined Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, and Mayor John Tory to speak to the media regarding the City's COVID-19 task force, and our ongoing interdivisional pandemic and response work. Dr. de Villa also provided an update today on her recommendations regarding travel and mass gatherings.
While the City’s planning and response has been underway since January when City-led meetings began after COVID-19 was identified, the activation of the City’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) represents the next phase of our pandemic and response work.
Toronto Fire Chief, Matthew Pegg, in his role as General Manager of the Office of Emergency Management, has been appointed to lead the City’s operational response. Working alongside Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, he will lead the implementation of our COVID-19 measures in every department and agency in the City.
The COVID-19 task force comprises key managers from all City divisions and agencies and are now situated at the EOC, planning for various responses, including:
- The potential for increased staff absenteeism due to illness and the impact on the City’s ability to deliver core services.
- Global supply chain challenges for personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves for frontline workers and first responders.
- Actions undertaken to protect vulnerable populations, such as those experiencing homelessness or in City-run long-term care homes.
- Developing, sharing and continually updating critical information for residents and visitors to the city.
- Forecasting and responding to economic impacts the pandemic may have on residents and businesses.
Chief Pegg announced today that the City's Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has been activated at Level 2 as of March 12 at 2 p.m. to support the following:
- Effective policy and strategic direction to the emergency
- Emergency operations
- Consequence management
- Resource management
- Coordination of management linkages to the emergency site, Divisional Operations Centre, external agencies and the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre
- Information to the public and news media
- Business continuity for the rest of the City
The work of the City's COVID-19 task force is continuing and is not impacted by the transition to Level 2 operations within the EOC.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, this afternoon, announced recommendations for anyone in Toronto who has recently arrived from outside of Canada, including the United States, to limit their social interactions with large groups of people, and avoid all contact in hospital settings, with older residents or those with chronic illnesses. This recommendation is in addition to guidelines already provided for anyone who has been to Hubei Province in China, Italy or Iran to self-isolate for 14 days.
The Medical Officer of Health is also recommending residents and event organizers conduct a thorough risk assessment before going ahead with any planned large events. A federal government tool – Public Health Mass Gathering Risk Assessment Tool – is available here: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/health-professionals/mass-gatherings-risk-assesment.htm and event organizers are encouraged to use this tool to make decisions about cancelling or continuing their event.
The City is also using this tool to help inform decisions about scheduled public meetings or events. Where possible, it will look to transition to virtual meetings, or postpone meetings and events where that is not possible. There are no statutory public meetings scheduled for next week, March 16-20.
Further, effective immediately, business travel will be cancelled for all City of Toronto staff until further notice.
Additionally, today the Province announced the significant and necessary public health measure of closing all publicly funded schools from March 16-April 5 in order to prevent spread of the virus following March Break. The City will continue to closely coordinate with our provincial and federal health partners to protect the health of all of our residents.
To date, there has been no community transmission of COVID-19. It is with this knowledge that the City is asking everyone to do their part to limit that possibility. Individuals need to very carefully assess risks to themselves and others if they have travelled. If they are unwell, stay home and contact Toronto Public Health if symptoms of COVID-19 materialize.
One of the most important things for individuals to do to prepare remains staying informed by regularly reviewing credible information sources including the Toronto Public Health website, which is updated regularly: www.toronto.ca/coronavirus
Residents can also call Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600, Monday to Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 8p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., or Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ask questions. Translation is available in many languages.
I understand that for many Torontonians this developing situation is concerning, and that is understandable. The health and safety of Torontonians is our top priority, and Toronto Public Health and the COVID-19 task force continue to work non-stop to prepare for any scenario.
As a city, we are prepared, but this global pandemic will test us. It will test our public health systems and our provincial health care system. It will test our city – not just our capacity to continue delivering essential services, but also our ability to adapt frontline operations to prevent transmission.
Finally, this will test us as a society. It will test our ability to not succumb to panic or misinformation. We must remain calm in the face of the storm.
Toronto will rise to this test. After 2 months of non-stop preparations and scenario planning, we are ready for any scenario. We will continue to base our actions on the best experts and evidence, and will continue working 24/hours a day, every day, to keep Torontonians safe.