Toronto planning for ‘worst case’ staff shortage with Omicron peak likely weeks away

By Michael Ranger

The Omicron peak is not expected to arrive for another four to six weeks and will likely lead to widespread city staffing shortages, according to Toronto officials.

Toronto Mayor John Tory and chief medical officer Dr. Eileen de Villa held their first COVID-19 update of 2022 on Tuesday and warned that the worst of the variant has yet to hit the city and the number of frontline staff affected will only get worse.

“This variant is particularly problematic because it spreads quickly,” said Mayor John Tory. “It is highly contagious.”

De Villa says the variant will not peak for at least four weeks and that will have an impact on how certain services run in the city.

“A high number of cases and widespread illness can lead to record levels of people being off work due to illness,” said De Villa. “Which also puts at risk the essential services in which Torontonians rely on everyday, like paramedics, fire and water treatment.”

The city is preparing for a worst case scenario where up to 60 per cent of their frontline staff are isolating due to COVID-19 exposure.

In response, they have established a pool of 1,000 workers who can be redeployed from other departments if required. The staff from this pool would be called upon to assist with city-run vaccination clinics, shelters and long-term care homes.

Related: GTA hospitals, paramedic services experiencing critical staff shortages amid COVID surge

The city reactivated its Emergency Operations Centre in December to help deal with unplanned absences. It also reestablished the business continuity task force and PPE management task force that were launched at the onset of the pandemic.

“Toronto’s emergency services will continue to respond to emergency calls without interruption and critical operations will continue so that safe drinking water comes out of your tap, the snow gets cleared and the garbage gets picked up,” said Tory.

The city says response times for low priority calls could increase from pre-pandemic levels but city emergency services are deploying resources to ensure the residents remains safe.

Last week, the city announced it was temporarily implementing changes to Toronto’s response model that will see Toronto Fire frontline staff respond to “additional calls where there is no clear indication of a patient or injury identified during the call-taking process.”

If a patient is subsequently identified, fire services would call paramedics.

“My focus and the focus of the entire City of Toronto government is to continue to implement proactive measures to protect the health and safety of residents, businesses and staff.”

The Toronto Public Library is already experiencing significant staff shortages and is temporarily closing 44 branches, effective Jan. 10. The Toronto Zoo announced it will close on Wednesday until at least Jan. 27.

Tory reiterated on Tuesday that the best defense against the highly transmissible Omicron is getting vaccinated — saying three shots are better than two.

In December, the city increased its vaccination capacity and administered more than 650,000 doses to adults and another 100,000 doses to children between five and 11. The city says 37 per cent of residents have now received their booster dose.

Due to new provincial restrictions put forth by the Ford government the city will also be shutting down all of their indoor recreation and entertainment facilities as of midnight.

The province announced they were reverting back to a modified Step 2 of their COVID-19 roadmap which puts a ban on indoor dining and closes indoor gyms, attractions and entertainment venus.

With files from Lucas Casaletto

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