Toronto's COVID-19 hot spots have been identified — but what is the province doing to help them?

Demand is growing for the province's help in fighting COVID-19 in Toronto's hot spots, one day after the city released a breakdown of neighbourhoods that are disproportionately affected. But the mobile testing units repeatedly promised by the premier for at-risk areas haven't materialized.

Doug Ford says mobile van units will target hot spots, but so far those units haven't appeared

Residents, officials call on province for an increase in COVID-19 testing sites 


1 year ago
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has promised mobile testing units to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in Toronto's hot spots. As Chris Glover explains, there's no evidence that those mobile units exist.  2:52

Demand is growing for the province's help in combating COVID-19 in Toronto's hot spots one day after the city released a breakdown of neighbourhoods that have been disproportionately affected by the virus. 

While Ontario Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly floated the idea of testing "as many people as possible" in the city's most at-risk areas using mobile testing vans, there is no evidence that those vans are available, or even exist. 

In an email to CBC Toronto, the Ministry of Health said there are nearly 130 COVID-19 assessment centres across the province, 24 of which are drive-thru facilities. The ministry didn't indicate that there are any active mobile testing units. 

Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath is now calling on the province to send more resources to help test and track cases. 

"I'm calling on Doug Ford to immediately deploy additional resources to COVID-19 hot spots — from testing and contact tracing resources to personal protective equipment and financial supports," the leader of the Official Opposition said in a statement issued Thursday. 

New figures show that Ontario's COVID-19 cases are primarily a Toronto problem, with a disproportionately high number of the province's new infections cropping up in the city and in the regions outside the city that make up the Greater Toronto Area. 

And according to a new map released by the city on Wednesday, the highest concentrations of COVID-19 cases have been recorded in neighbourhoods with higher proportions of multi-unit residences and low-income residents.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, said income, access to housing, and employment — including people working in places with increased risk of transmission — are key issues in areas with higher case numbers. 

Horwath said thanks to the new data, "it's more obvious than ever" that hot spots are concentrated in communities that are "low-income and predominantly racialized." 

"It's shameful that Ford has been resistant to mandating the collection and sharing of race-based and socio-economic COVID-19 data, but he can no longer ignore this information. This is urgent and lives are at stake."

Taking TTC to testing sites increases risk, resident says 

In areas hardest-hit by the virus, large concentrations of people live far away from drive-thru testing. 

That's why some residents say there's a need for additional options — including mobile testing units — rather than forcing people to take public transit to get to testing sites. 

"The TTC in this area doesn't help a lot because some buses at minimum [have] 20 people," Arturo Harraro told CBC Toronto Thursday.

Harrao lives in the Glenfield-Jane Heights neighbourhood in Toronto's northwest — the area with the highest amount of active cases. He attributes the high case count to high transit use. 

TTC service has continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but some people say it has escalated the spread of the virus. The TTC says it is no longer accepting cash, tickets or tokens on buses, and is urging people to avoid crowded vehicles. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The neighbourhood has 292 cases, with a rate of 938 per 100,000 people. 

The median household income in the area is $52,000, while Toronto's average sits at $65,829. Overcrowding is an issue too, with 18 per cent of people living in households with five or more residents. 

Like Harrao, resident Sara Dicecca says people need more options to get tested. 

"I think its a bit tricky because you have to go out to places to get tested," she said. 

"I know a lot of people that don't drive, that aren't mobile, and so the only way to get tested is if you have the means to come out and stand in line and get tested." 

'We need the co-operation of people in hard-hit areas': Ford

Recognizing that the pandemic is playing out differently in certain areas, Ford made a promise last week to bring mobile testing vans to certain areas. 

"We need the co-operation of people in hard-hit areas. Those are the areas we bring in a mobile testing van and we'll just start testing people in those certain areas," Ford said at the province's COVID-19 update on May 21.

But a week later, Jason Richardson, who also lives in the Glenfield-Jane Heights neighbourhood, still hasn't spotted one. 

Some Toronto residents say additional testing methods are needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the city. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"It would be very nice if there was a greater presence of them around here because I most definitely do not see this van you're referring to," he said. 

Here's a list of Toronto's 10 hardest-hit neighbourhoods as of May 28, with their total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases during the crisis:

  • Glenfield - Jane Heights: 292 cases.
  • West Humber - Clairville: 260 cases. 
  • Downsview-Roding-CFB: 256 cases. 
  • York University Heights: 249 cases.  
  • Islington City Centre West: 210 cases. 
  • Woburn: 202 cases. 
  • Rouge: 192 cases. 
  • Mount Oliver Silverstone Jamestown: 191 cases. 
  • Weston: 184 cases. 
  • Newtonbrook West: 183 cases. 

A map showing the total number of cases in all Toronto neighbourhoods can be found here

Roughly 20% of cases missing from map 

As of Thursday, Toronto has seen 10,726 confirmed COVID-19 cases. About 7,944 of those people have recovered, but 800 have died.

Nearly 2,000 cases, or roughly 20 per cent, of the city's total confirmed cases are missing on the new map — data that could significantly alter the list of highest-risk areas. 

 Dr. Vinita Dubey, the city's associate medical officer of health, told CBC News Thursday that the missing cases have not yet been geographically assigned. 

Dubey also blamed discrepancies in the city's data on "back-end" problems, which were caused by a glitch in the computer program that assigns cases by postal code and converts them to figures in the city's new map. 

The map, which was taken down on Wednesday evening and redone, initially showed a completely different set of numbers. Dubey says that glitch has since been corrected. 


  • An earlier version of this story contained a headline image taken in Chinatown, however Chinatown is not one of the city's hot spots.
    May 29, 2020 11:26 AM ET

With files from Chris Glover


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