COVID-19 in Toronto 'could have been much worse,' city says, as number of deaths tops 800

A total of 828 people have died of COVID-19 in Toronto and a total of 379 people are in hospital, the city reported on Monday.

City reopens park washrooms, works on shelter strategy, receives $166M in gas tax funds

A person stands in a physical distancing circle in Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park on the weekend, after a large gathering took place there in spite of warnings aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. The city is beginning to open washrooms in public parks. Washrooms were opened at Trinity Bellwoods on the weekend. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

COVID-19 could have claimed more lives in Toronto if residents had not heeded public health directives, the city's medical officer of health said on Monday.

"While COVID-19 has drastically altered our lives and tragically we have lost too many of our friends, family members and other loved ones to this virus, as I have stated before, thus far we have averted what could have been much worse," Dr. Eileen de Villa said.

"If you hadn't done your part, we could have been experiencing tragedies similar to what we've seen in other parts of the world. But we are not out of the woods yet and we need to remain diligent and focused as we move forward."

At a city hall news conference, De Villa reported that Toronto has 164 new COVID-19 cases as of Sunday afternoon, bringing the cumulative total in the city to 11,338.

A total of 828 people have died of COVID-19 in Toronto and a total of 379 people are in hospital, the city reported on its website on Monday. Of the people in hospital, 83 are in intensive care units and 65 are on ventilators.

A total of 8,630 people have recovered, an increase of 184 from Saturday. 

"There is more testing and we should expect to see more cases," de Villa told reporters.

The city has had a cumulative total of 149 outbreaks at long-term care homes, retirement homes and hospitals.

The Toronto Board of Health is set to meet next Monday and De Villa said she plans to recommend ways to improve the city's response to the pandemic at the meeting.

"A critical component of our work will continue to be case investigation and contact management and follow-up," she said.

"Although these are actually two distinct areas of public health activity and are often described in the popular media as contact tracing, these aspects of our public health response are amongst the most important when it comes to containing the spread of COVID-19."

The board of health will also discuss Toronto's ongoing opioid poisoning crisis, which she said has been made worse by the pandemic. De Villa said the "dual public health crises" are having a significant impact on people who use drugs.

"Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures that were implemented to promote physical distancing, which was necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19, have forced harm reduction and other services that people rely upon to significantly reduce their service offerings or their service hours," she added.

Washrooms opened at Trinity Bellwoods, Christie Pits

The new numbers come as city staff begin to reopen washrooms in public parks across Toronto while the pandemic continues.

Mayor John Tory, who also spoke at the news conference, said city staff opened washrooms in Trinity Bellwoods Park and Christie Pits on the weekend.

A view of the gates of Trinity Bellwoods Park on Queen Street West in Toronto. The city has opened washrooms in the park. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

The city will open washrooms at another 50 sites by Saturday, with the remainder to be opened by the middle of the month. The city has about 200 washrooms in public parks.

Toronto Public Health (TPH) is recommending all washrooms in parks should receive a "deep clean" once a week. TPH says water fountains and water bottle-filling stations should also open this week but should be cleaned and disinfected daily.

Tory said the city is advising park visitors to wear face masks when using public washrooms and to wash their hands before and after using the public toilets. He said there will be signs in place to encourage physical distancing.

Toronto to receive $166M from federal gas tax fund

Meanwhile, Tory said the city will receive $166 million from the federal gas tax fund, according to the federal government. He said the money will be received in a lump sum by June 10.

"We had been planning to receive this funding before COVID-19 struck, so the fact that it is still coming and coming on an accelerated basis, is good news. This announcement is a good start, but it does not represent the comprehensive response needed for cities, including the City of Toronto, and it is not new money," Tory said.

Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government is rushing $2.2 billion in expected infrastructure funding to Canada's cities.

Trudeau said sending gas-tax funds months sooner than planned should ease municipalities' cash flow concerns, which is why the government is sending the money in one shot.

Speaking outside his Ottawa residence, Trudeau said the money can be used for construction projects to meet local infrastructure needs and put people to work.

Toronto alone says it's facing a $1.5-billion shortfall this fiscal year and will need to slash services unless the other levels of government step in and help.

City, United Way to work on homelessness plan

Meanwhile, the city has formed a partnership with United Way Greater Toronto (UWGT) to develop what it calls a "COVID-19 shelter interim recovery strategy" that will help the city and its agencies deal with homelessness over the next six to 12 months.

Tents of people experiencing homelessness line the edges of George Hislop Park downtown. The city has formed a partnership with United Way Greater Toronto (UWGT) to develop what it calls a 'COVID-19 shelter interim recovery strategy' that will help the city and its agencies deal with homelessness over the next six to 12 months. (Submitted by Greg Cook)

Tory said the city and the United Way have also formed a new task force of organizations involved in helping people experiencing homelessness.

Until June 30, the task force will consult community providers, Indigenous communities, heath sector organizations, regional municipal governments and members of the public about what the city can do to slow the spread of COVID-19 in its shelter system.

The city and United Way will host virtual meetings, conduct surveys, and organizations discussions with health, housing and shelter organizations. The task force will focus on, among other things:

  • Lessons learned from the city's pandemic response.
  • Continued infection prevention measures needed to protect vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • Capacity of the city's shelter system and best practices for programs that provide services to homeless people.

Enforcement team talked to 7,200 residents about closures

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, head of the city's emergency management office, told reporters that the city received 94 complaints on Sunday about people using outdoor amenities or not practising physical distancing in parks and bylaw officers issued eight tickets.

In May, the city's enforcement team have talked to more than 7,200 people in city parks about closures to slow the spread of COVID-19 and public health measures.

Toronto Public Library opens more drop boxes

On Monday, Toronto Public Library reopened 53 more library branch drop boxes that will accept borrowed library materials. Residents will be able to schedule when they can pick up reserved materials starting next Monday.

The library reinstated drop box service on May 25 at 17 library branches and have expanded it to 70 branches. Right now, drop boxes are only accepting borrowed library books, magazines, DVDs, CDs and audio books.

While residents are encouraged to return borrowed items, the library says it is not mandatory. Residents can continue to hold on to materials until branches reopen and they will not be charged fines during the pandemic. Library customers can continue to place holds online through the library's website.

Rainbow flag raised at city hall to kick off Pride Month

 Mayor John Tory, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents Ward 13-Toronto Centre, and Jad Jaber, a member of Pride Toronto's board of directors, proclaimed June as Pride Month in Toronto and raised the rainbow and transgender flags at a ceremony at city hall.

The ceremony kicks off Pride Toronto's 2020 Virtual Pride Festival.

"Toronto prides itself on being not only the most diverse city in the world, but a city that is embracing of everyone, no matter what their religion, their skin colour or their sexual orientation. Raising the flags today is important for that exact reason," Tory said.

Tory said the festival, which runs from June 1 to 28, is a virtual celebration showcasing the history, courage and diversity of Toronto's lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer, questioning and Two-Spirit communities. 

The event will culminate with the Virtual Pride Festival Weekend from June 26 to 28.

With files from The Canadian Press