Toronto Mayor John Tory has announced the closure of City Hall, all civic centres and Metro Hall to the public to further prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
All non-essential city staff will be sent home effective Tuesday and will continue to be paid, not laid off. Tory said they will recall city staff as needed.
Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said certain administrative functions, counter-based services at city hall and marriage services in city facilities will be suspended.
Critical and essential services will continue to operate including:
- emergency services such as police, fire and paramedics
- shelters and respite centres as well as city-operated long-term care centres
- garbage collection
- road operations and snow removal
- Toronto Hydro and Toronto Water
- Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) and COVID-19 task force teams
Pegg also warned of COVID-19 related scams and said neither the City of Toronto or Public Health are going door-to-door and no COVID-19 tests are being offered for sale.
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen De Villa said all three levels of government have undertaken unprecedented measures to ensure social distancing.
However she cautioned that while social distancing does work to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it takes time to see the effects.
“As is the case with any medicine, it needs to be applied at the right dose for a sufficient amount of time,” she said. “We can and we do expect to see continued increases in our case counts in the days and weeks ahead of us.”
She added that cases will most likely be seen in those who have travelled outside Canada, especially the U.S. and reiterated that anyone who has travelled should self-isolate at home for 14 days after returning.
She also implored people and businesses to make every effort to implement social distancing.
“My message to you today is simply this: stay home, stay safe and take care of each other,” said de Villa.
Mary-Anne Bedard, General Manager of Shelter Support and Housing said the city is also making sure it is taking care of people who are experiencing homelessness. All city-run 24 hour services for those experiencing homelessness will remain open.
Bedard said as of noon Tuesday, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the shelter system. However many in the system have underlying chronic medical conditions that increase their risk of COVID-19 and many services have a limited ability to isolate clients, making the risk of spread in shelter system fairly significant.
The response to these challenged will be three tiered, said Bedard.
- First – they are creating the ability for social distancing within existing programs by creating new programs and rapid rehousing. The first site opened Monday and 4 additional locations are opening Wednesday within closed city facilities. They are also working with Toronto Community Housing to identify vacancies to provide permanent housing.
- Second – standard screening procedures are being implemented using Toronto Public Health guideline at all entry points, over the phone or in person, for those seeking shelter.
Anyone waiting to access the shelter system, who should be assessed for COVID-19, is being referred to an assessment centre.
People who are being tested for for COVID-19 will not be admitted to the regular shelter system but will rather be processed through a special program and sent to a separate location while they wait for their test results. The process started earlier this week and is the first medically supported isolation service for people experiencing homelessness homeless in Canada.
- Third – they are working with provincial partners to identify an appropriate service for people who test positive for COVID-19.
Further Bernard said the city sees 100 refugee claimants a week who need shelter. The city has asked the federal government to screen and support self-isolation at the border for anyone entering the country in the past 14 days who does not have their own means to self-isolate.
People who have entered the country in the past 14 days and presented in the Toronto shelter system are being accommodated at a central location so they can self-isolate. People already in the shelter system who need self-isolation are also being sent to the same location.