Toronto

COVID-19 in Toronto: Toronto Public Health to receive 200 staff, city halts most contact tracing

The province confirmed Monday morning at least 600 staff will be hired in the next five weeks to join the contact tracing efforts for Toronto's and Ottawa's public health units.

Meanwhile, Ontario moves toward appointment-only testing 

Ontario has announced 200 staff will be added to Toronto Public Health's contact tracing team in an effort to help curb a surge in COVID-19 case counts. (Rozenn Nicolle/Radio-Canada)

The Ontario government has announced it is hiring more contact tracers and case managers to support public health units in both Toronto and Ottawa.

The province confirmed Monday morning at least 600 staff will be hired in the next five weeks to join contact tracing efforts, beginning this Monday.

In a statement to CBC Toronto, the province said 200 staffers will be joining Toronto Public Health (TPH) over the next four weeks, starting Monday.

"These staff will immediately help TPH reach out to cases, and also provide contact tracing support in the coming weeks," the statement said.

Ottawa's public health unit will be provided with 150 additional staff over the next four weeks, beginning this week. 

TPH halts contact tracing for most cases

The announcement of additional staff follows a decision made by TPH to halt contact tracing outside of specific congregate settings. 

The decision was made in order to keep up with the growing infection rate, Toronto's chief medical officer Dr. Eileen de Villa said on Metro Morning Monday.

"When you get to a stage in an outbreak where infection rates are growing at such a rapid pace ... any resources that you have in terms of case and contact management and resources that you may add ... quickly get outpaced," she said.

At a press conference Monday, de Villa said the move is an indicator of how serious the COVID-19 situation is in the city. 

"Infections are rising at a rate that will very quickly outpace conventional case management and contact tracing, no matter how many people are deployed to support it," she said. 

The city's focus has shifted to protecting the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time, de Villa said. 

Now, contact tracers will follow up with every case to ensure they are aware of their diagnosis. They will be expected to isolate and "direct those in their household who are at highest risk for exposure to that infection to also isolate and to be aware of the exposure," she explained. 

Students at Portage Trail Community School, in Toronto. Toronto Public Health is expected to continue contact tracing in congregate and high-risk settings such as health care, long-term care, and schools.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
 

TPH will continue contact tracing in congregate and high-risk settings such as healthcare, long-term care, and schools. 

"It's a question of trying to deploy the resources that we have in the most effective way possible and I think that's a really responsible course of action," de Villa said, confirming this is only a temporary measure given the current circumstances the city is facing. 

De Villa proposes recommendations to curb virus spread

Last week, de Villa also announced her own recommendations for the province to enact to help curb the current resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

The recommendations include prohibiting indoor dining for four weeks, as well as indoor sports and recreation, and requiring large venues to submit plans showing how they will comply with public health measures, like physically distanced seating and methods to collect information from patrons. 

They also include calling on the public to leave their homes only for essential trips including work, education, healthcare appointments and exercise, with up to two people from outside a household allowed to provide social support for those living alone.

Ontario moves toward appointment-only testing 

Meanwhile, Ontario is beginning its move toward appointment-only COVID-19 testing at its 153 assessment centres. 

According to the Ontario health ministry, the move will enable the province's network of labs to deal with a backlog of tests. 

The last day for walk-in testing was Saturday. Health experts have warned the shift could result in artificially-low new daily case counts later this week.

Toronto Mayor John Tory says he is talking to the premier 'almost every day' about how to confront the virus in both Toronto and the rest of Ontario. (Linda Ward/CBC)
 

When asked about potentially long waiting periods to get a testing appointment, de Villa said she couldn't comment. 

But Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city and province are in regular communication to find public health measures that work for both Ontario and Toronto. 

"I want people to know we are united in confronting the virus," Tory said at a press conference Monday. 

"It takes some time to find solutions that work for Toronto and the rest of Ontario." 

COVID-19 continues to impact harder-hit neighbourhoods 

De Villa said COVID-19 continues to impact harder-hit neighbourhoods in northwest and northeast parts of the city, but added that the virus is also now spreading farther south. 

"What we saw in the first wave ... we saw activity in the northwest and northeast parts of the city," she said. 

"We are [now] seeing more activity happening in the downtown core." 

Though she couldn't comment on the specific numbers, de Villa said the virus is impacting all areas across Toronto. 

Thanksgiving will have to be 'very different' 

Meanwhile, health officials say this Thanksgiving weekend will have to be different this year. 

"I am asking everyone to rethink their Thanksgiving plans," de Villa said at the press conference Monday. 

She's recommending families to celebrate only with those they live with. 

 

Tory agreed. 

"This coming Thanksgiving will have to be different for residents," he said. 

"It just isn't worth it to put the health of family members at risk." 

With files from Ania Bessonov

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