Toronto

Firms must do the 'right thing,' Tory says as city starts reporting COVID-19 workplace outbreaks

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced new workplace measures during the city's Monday COVID-19 briefing, while 974 new confirmed cases and nine additional deaths were reported.

'Fight is far from over' as COVID-19 spreads in workplaces, Toronto mayor says

Employers will now be required to 'immediately notify' Toronto Public Health as soon as they are aware of two or more employees that test positive for COVID-19, Mayor John Tory announced during the city's Monday COVID-19 briefing. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced new workplace measures during the city's Monday COVID-19 briefing, including reporting of outbreaks in workplaces, while 974 new confirmed cases and nine additional deaths were reported in the city.

Tory said employers that are open and operating must do the "right thing" and follow the new measures in order to protect their employees and to ultimately protect all Toronto residents.

While current cases are "alarmingly high," Tory said, it will take time for new measures to have an impact on COVID-19 figures.

As of Monday, the city has reported 16 active outbreaks and listed three businesses with outbreaks that pose major public health risks on its website, including Deciem, Sofina Foods Inc. and TTM Technologies Inc.

"We know the fight is far from over and spread is happening in workplaces," Tory said.

"I believe this kind of transparency and public accountability will help to encourage employers to do everything they can to protect their workers and it will help give everyone a better indication of where the COVID-19 virus is spreading in our community."

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eileen de Villa speaks during a COVID-19 briefing on Jan. 4, 2020. Employers will be required to report cases as soon as they are made aware of two or more employees having contracted the virus. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's chief medical officer, also confirmed the city would publish more details weekly about where COVID-19 is spreading in workplaces — though she stressed workers' privacy would be ensured.

"With more infection prevention and control measures, with more distance and clearer lines of accountability, there is greater capacity to manage public health while businesses operate in the pandemic," de Villa said.

"Distance will produce results."

Employers now required to immediately report outbreaks

Businesses will need to "immediately notify" Toronto Public Health (TPH) as soon as they are made aware of two or more employees with COVID-19 who have been attending workplaces within the last 14 days.

Workplaces are also now required to provide information for a designated contact person to Toronto Public Health. 

TPH said it will only disclose workplace outbreak information in cases where a "public health risk exists when there is evidence of sustained transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace," a significant proportion of staff have been involved in the outbreak or if the workplace is large enough that risk of privacy concerns is mitigated.

Its benchmark for disclosing which businesses are dealing with outbreaks would be a minimum of approximately 20 employees in a workplace, TPH said in a statement to CBC News.

"This threshold helps us to ensure that we don't disclose any individual-level health information in order to protect the privacy of the employees," a spokesperson said in a statement.

Businesses must also ensure workers follow physical distancing rules, implement rigorous and frequent cleaning and conduct regular functional assessments of heating ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 6,200 COVID-19 cases have been traced back to workplaces. 

In May of 2020, public health data shared with CBC News showed manufacturing plants, grocery stores, delivery companies and other workplaces across the Greater Toronto Area were all high-risk settings where COVID-19 outbreaks were taking place.

The new details on workplace outbreaks were published on Monday on the TPH website and will be updated weekly on Thursdays, de Villa said.

Previously TPH grouped all workplaces together but with the new system, it will put them into 11 different categories including bars and restaurants, event venues and religious facilities, non-institutional medical health services, personal- care service settings, recreational fitness facilities, retail settings, food processing plants, offices, etc.

As of Sunday, there have been 16 reported active outbreaks in community and workplace settings in Toronto, according to the city’s data. Under the current provincewide lockdown orders, essential businesses such as warehouses, food processing plants, manufacturing facilities and some retail stores are among those open. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of city's board of health, said "information is power" amid the pandemic. 

Under the new measures, employers must also ensure that all workers are aware of income replacement and workplace-related benefits they are entitled to if they have to isolate due to COVID-19 symptoms .

He said sharing of workplace outbreak information will help protect workers by ensuring employers are knowledgeable and held accountable.

But Cressy said it has been 16 weeks since the Toronto Board of Health voted to ask de Villa to implement such a system.

Universal paid sick leave needed, Tory says

Tory also called for the federal and provincial governments to introduce some form of universal paid sick leave.

The mayor and his counterparts in other major Ontario cities have called for the policy, saying some workers may avoid taking COVID-19 tests out of fear of potential lost income.

"I think it's past time that we had action on that," Tory said.

Meanwhile, Ontario's New Democrats said every COVID-19 workplace outbreak ought to be made public.

"Keeping this information secret puts the lives of workers and their families at risk, it increases the risk of community spread, and it removes a critical piece of information we need to find COVID-19 hotspots and stop the spread," said Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

The city is urging businesses to abide by the following infection prevention measures 

  • Ensuring hand sanitizer and hand-washing facilities are provided in work and rest areas.
  • Implementing "rigorous and frequent environmental cleaning" in all high-touch areas and areas accessible to the public, including washrooms, check-out counters, concession stands, and other surfaces, such as doorknobs and elevator buttons.
  • Conducting, or having the property owner or landlord conduct, a regular review of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
  • Allowing only one employee per company vehicle. If that's not possible, workers in those vehicles should wear masks. 
  • Ensuring that workers are physical distancing by at least two metres throughout the workplace and during eating and rest periods.
  • Implementing physical barriers, such as Plexiglas, when physical distancing is not possible. 

Tory, GTHA mayors prepared to help with vaccine rollout

In a statement Monday, Tory said he and the other mayors in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) are committed to working with the federal and provincial governments to support the  vaccine rollout.

The mayors and chairs have called on the province to "make it easier for people to get to vaccination sites," and to prepare to assist Ontarians with "consistent translation of public information, Tory said in a statement linked to a tweet.

He said they are prepared to provide space and resources to the provincial government to ensure a timely rollout.

"We are working continuously to make sure the city is ready to support the province's vaccination efforts as they expand early in this new year," Tory said at the briefing.

"While the vast majority of the vaccine rollout is beyond the city government's control, I will be working with the federal and provincial officials ... to make sure that it happens as quickly as possible."

The city has been under the province's grey-lockdown zone since Nov. 23. If provincial lockdown restrictions are lifted for southern Ontario later this month, Toronto will have been locked down for 60 days.

Under the current lockdown measures, employees in Toronto who work indoors are required to wear masks.

Warehouses, food processing plants, manufacturing facilities and some retail stores are among the essential businesses exempt from the province's lockdown orders. 

About the Author

Sara Jabakhanji is a reporter with CBC News and graduate of Ryerson's School of Journalism. Sara has chased stories for the CBC across the province of Ontario in Toronto, Ottawa and London. You can reach her at: sara.jabakhanji@cbc.ca

With files from The Canadian Press

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now