Toronto

Mobile COVID-19 testing arrives in Toronto's hardest hit region

Residents from the region of Toronto with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections were able to get tested for the first time at a mobile site in their community on Saturday.

Infection rates in Toronto's northwest end are disproportionately higher than other parts of the city

The clinic was set up inside Christian Centre Church in North York, the first community mobile site in Toronto's hard-hit northwest region. (Philippe De Montigny/CBC)

Residents in the region of Toronto with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections were able to get tested at a community mobile clinic for the first time on Saturday.

Toronto Public Health teamed up with Ontario Health and Black Creek Community Health Centre to offer testing at Christian Centre Church near Jane Street and Steeles Avenue West.

For 69-year-old Renwick Herry, getting to the pop-up site was easy. He lives right across the street.

"It's very important to have access. I can just walk here and get it done," he said.

"Especially being a senior with diabetes, it is something that I very much appreciate."

Michelle Westin, senior analyst for planning, quality and risk at Black Creek Community Health Centre says it was necessary to have the clinic in a location community members are familiar with.

"It was really important for us, and the organizations involved, to bring community testing out into spaces that people can access," she said. 

Renwick Henry said the testing was quick and straightforward. “One of my concerns when facing this [pandemic] was where and how to get a test done,” he said. (Michael Aitkens/CBC)

Ontario Health said decisions on where to set up mobile units are "informed by factors like the number and location of cases, the positivity rate of tests, and the rate of contagion."

High infection rate linked to social and economic disadvantages

Earlier this month, Councilor Joe Cressy, chair of the city's board of health, sent a letter to the provincial government asking for more resources to fight COVID-19 in the city's northwest region, including access to low-barrier mobile testing.

He said Toronto Public Health is glad a pop-up clinic finally arrived this weekend "because the more we test, the more we can isolate, and the more we can protect everyone."

Cressy said it is an obligation to protect the city's most vulnerable. According to this Toronto Public Health map of neighbourhood infection rates, the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases are in the city's northwest end, which includes especially hard-hit neighbourhoods like Glenfield-Jane-Heights and West-Humber-Clairville.

Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said accessible mobile testing is the first step towards protecting the city's most vulnerable. (Lauren Pelley/CBC)

"Some neighbourhoods there have had more than 400 cases. And you compare that to neighbourhoods like Rosedale-Moore Park, which had less than 30, or The Beaches which has less than 20," Cressy said.

Westin says the numbers are not surprising.

The disproportionate rate of infection can be linked to social and economic disadvantages stemming from systemic barriers. The city's northwest region is home to higher proportions of crowded multi-unit residences and low-income front-line workers. 

"We know from the data that close contact is a common source of infection for people. We are living in vertical communities here, people are taking the TTC, and possibly working in jobs where they may be more exposed, PSWs for instance, or working in factories," she said.

"We're hoping down the road to add more clinics, more locations in other parts of the community as this becomes more of a regular thing," said Michelle Westin, senior analyst for planning, quality and risk at Black Creek Community Health Centre. (Michael Aitkens/CBC)

Mobile testing just the first step, Cressy says

Cressy says Toronto Public Health is in conversation with Ontario Health to bring more mobile clinics into neighbourhoods in the city's northwest end.

But he adds it's only the first step.

"Testing is the launching point to further prevention. If we know people are positive in certain areas, then we can put in place improved protections in those places," he said.

For instance, the Toronto Board of Health is calling for the creation of voluntary self-isolation facilities.

Cressy said these would be facilities for people who have a home but can't safely self-isolate there "because not everyone has the luxury of a self-contained basement unit or multiple bathrooms."

"Until we actually protect the most vulnerable, not just test them, we won't be able to beat this pandemic."

The mobile testing site at Christian Centre Church, located at 4545 Jane St., will open again on Wednesday July 22 and Friday July 24 from 4 p.m to 8 p.m.

About the Author

Kelda Yuen is a reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She is a two-time Edward R. Murrow Award winner with a penchant for stories focusing on the arts and human interest, and those that aim to better understand diverse communities. Kelda began her career in Beijing where she was a reporter and anchor. When she's not in the field, she's probably at the movies. Email: kelda.yuen@cbc.ca

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