32 people have died of COVID-19 in Toronto, city health officials report

Thirty-two people have died of COVID-19 in Toronto as of Monday afternoon, the city's medical officer of health says.

City has 1,301 cases in all, officials focused improving food access and bylaw enforcement

Toronto Mayor John Tory, centre, Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, left, and Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, head of the city's emergency response team, right, spoke to reporters on Monday. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Thirty-two people have died of COVID-19 in Toronto as of Monday afternoon, the city's medical officer of health says.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, told reporters at a news conference at city hall on Monday that the city had 1,301 cases of the virus as of 1 p.m. 

A total of 1,078 are confirmed, while 223 are probable cases. A total of 145 people are in hospital with 60 in intensive care units. Seventy-seven people have recovered from the virus.

There are 135 cases in long-term care and retirement home settings in the city. Fifteen people in these homes have died, she added.

The numbers came out Monday as city officials, including Mayor John Tory and Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, head of the city's emergency response team, provided an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in Toronto.

De Villa said she is aware that people are very worried about their relatives in long-term care and retirement homes, where there have been serious outbreaks and COVID-19 has often been fatal.

"Understandably, many are wondering if you should remove your loved ones from a long-term care home or retirement home for the duration of the outbreak. There is no easy answer for this very complex question," she said.

"Typically, people in long-term care homes are receiving specialized care that is not possible, or at best challenging to provide within a home setting. Residents of long-term care homes are often frail, with many complex, underlying health issues and equally complex health-care needs," she added.

"But, of course, these people are our parents, they are our grandparents and they are our loved ones. This is precisely why their families have made the difficult choice to move them into these facilities in the first place to make they are in a safe and supportive environment that provides on site 24-hour medical, nursing and other supports."

She said she advises anyone who wants to remove a loved one should speak to the director at the home to understand the "specific daily care needs" of his or her relative.

De Villa said Toronto Public Health officials are working with long-term care homes to control outbreaks and ensure proper infection control measures are in place to prevent further loss of life.

She urged families of people in long-term care and retirement homes to connect in creative ways.

The city says COVID-19 is also taking its toll on front-line workers. A total of 12 physicians, 13 nurses and six other health-care workers have been diagnosed with the virus.

A view inside the city’s COVID-19 Emergency Operations Centre on March, 13, 2020. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

City working with agencies, companies on food access

Tory said the city is working with community agencies and corporations to ensure the city's most vulnerable people have access to food during the pandemic. Corporations are stepping up with donations, he added.

"We are doing everything we can as a municipal government to help residents during these tough times," Tory said in a news release on Monday.

"These generous and much needed donations, coupled with the city's ongoing efforts to improve access to food with its community food program partners, will immediately help thousands of Toronto residents and their families."

Tory said the need for food programs has increased dramatically since the pandemic began and the city implemented emergency measures to slow the spread of the virus. About 40 per cent of food bank programs have closed.

City officials, along with with 211, United Way Greater Toronto, and other community agencies, are trying to identify areas where there is the greatest need, he said. 

4 food banks open in Toronto public library branches

Four new food banks have opened at four Toronto Public Library branches. Another two food banks are scheduled to open on Tuesday. 

The first location opened on March 25 with the help of the North York Harvest Food Bank. Three others opened in recent days with the help of the Daily Bread Food Bank. Tory said the city hopes to open 10 in all. Library staff are also packing hampers at these locations, he added.

The city is also helping to organize food banks in Toronto Community Housing buildings for tenants and in certain community centres where possible.

Corporations have begun to donate food

Tory said corporations have begun to make donations to support community food programs such as food banks, multi-service centres, home delivery programs and meal drop-ins.

"We can't do this alone," he said.

Sobeys Inc., for example, has donated about 7,030 cases of food, while Loblaw Companies Ltd. has provided $30,000 of food credit. Kraft Heinz Canada has donated more than 3,650 cases of baby food. Tory encouraged other companies to come forward to help.

Tory said the city is also working with several community organizations, including Second Harvest, Daily Bread Food Bank, North York Harvest Food Bank, Red Cross, and the Salvation Army, to find ways to keep food programs open and to fill gaps left by closed programs.

He said officials are also trying to improve food access to seniors through food hamper delivery, children and Indigenous communities. As of Tuesday, any senior who qualifies and who is in need of food hamper delivery can call the Red Cross at 1-833-204-9952.

The city is also providing equipment to community food programs. For example, the city has provided fork lift operators to the Daily Bread Food Bank to help with warehouse operations and has trucks and drivers on standby to help transport food.

He said residents can call 211 directly for information or view a map of local service providers on the 211 website

As for grocery stores, the mayor said he has been told by the major chains that the food supply is stable but they would like to remind people to respect the times dedicated for seniors, the staff themselves, and measures in place such as one-way lanes to ensure there is physical distancing.

'An Easter egg hunt isn't worth your life'

Ahead of the Easter weekend and Passover, Tory urged people to get groceries earlier in the week, to avoid shopping on Thursday and Saturday, when it it expected to be busy, and to avoid travel and gathering in large groups.

He urged people to celebrate with the loved ones with whom they live.

"An Easter egg hunt isn't worth your life," he said.

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, head of the city's emergency response team, says an enforcement team of city bylaw officers and police patrolled about 300 parks and public spaces on the weekend for non-compliance of emergency orders and bylaws. (CBC)

For his part, Pegg told reporters that an enforcement team of city bylaw officers and police patrolled about 300 parks and public spaces on the weekend for non-compliance of emergency orders and bylaws.

He said people were using closed skateboard parks, families were using closed playground structures and people had gathered in large groups at outdoor shopping plazas.

Toronto police, as part of the weekend enforcement blitz, issued 26 tickets and cautioned 976 people about the city's new physical distancing bylaw. Its parking enforcement officers issued 55 parking tags and had two cars towed.

City bylaw officers responded to 346 parks complaints, 141 on Saturday and 206 on Sunday. They issued three tickets and three written cautions. They also issued 196 verbal cautions, 61 on Saturday and 135 on Sunday.

The enforcement team spoke to about 2,480 people on the weekend and educated them about the parks amenities closures and physical distancing.

More than 800 vehicles were turned away from Bluffers Park and more than 140 vehicles from High Park.

Since March 24, Toronto Public Health has gone to 509 bars and restaurants that were deemed non-compliant. At total of 173 have been closed and 21 have received warning notices for not sticking to takeout and delivery only.

TPH has also gone to 124 personal service settings, such as nail salons and hair dressers. A total of 120 have been closed and four have received warning letters.

GO Transit to reduce service this week

GO Transit says it will reduce service on its train lines and bus routes starting Wednesday as ridership plummets during the COVID-19 crisis.

In a news release on Monday, the transit agency said ridership has dropped 90 per cent as people are following advice to stay home.

Service will continue on all of its train lines and bus routes to ensure essential workers can get to their jobs, the release said.

The UP Express service, meanwhile, is already operating at a reduced schedule of every 30 minutes. 

"Metrolinx staff on the front-lines, in operations and on the incident command team, are closely monitoring ridership and where and when service is needed the most," GO Transit said. The agency added it is prepared to alter services quickly as needed.

"We are also actively encouraging customers to space themselves out on trains and buses as well as platforms. Transit riders should remain in their seat and not crowd around the doors as they exit. Stay home if sick and do not ride trains and buses."

For GO's reduced service schedule, go to: