Community transmission of COVID-19 is happening in Toronto: de Villa

Community transmission of COVID-19 is happening in Toronto: de Villa

The city’s medical officer of health said Friday that she’s now “confident” that Toronto is seeing community transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

The confirmation comes as the city disclosed that the virus has now struck a member of the city’s paramedic service, someone in the homeless community and another person at a city-run long-term care facility in Scarborough. .

“We are collaborating with Toronto Paramedic Services, the Fred Victor Centre, and the Seven Oaks long-term care home,” Dr. Eileen de Villa told reporters Friday. “The paramedic who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 is currently in isolation at home. My team is actively investigating all possible contacts to assess potential health risks and will follow up directly with those who require further action.”

She said her team is also coordinating with Seven Oaks and the Fred Victor Centre – an organization that provides services to the homeless population at a number of locations around the city – to ensure that “enhanced infection prevention and control measures” are in place.

In all, there are now 161 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city, 33 more cases than the city reported Thursday.  

Outbreak protocols in effect at Scarborough long-term care home

A resident at Seven Oaks long-term care home in Scarborough was tested for COVID-19 earlier this week and has now been confirmed as having the virus, officials said. That person is now in isolation, but health officials wouldn’t say if they remain at Seven Oaks or if they have been moved elsewhere.

Outbreak protocols are now in effect at the facility, which does not necessarily mean that multiple people have contracted the virus. However health officials did not say how many other people at the home have been tested for COVID-19 so far.

Residents on the affected floor have been isolated and staff at the facility are wearing personal protective equipment when caring for affected floor residents.

De Villa said that outbreaks at long-term care homes are “the bread and butter of public health” and said that while COVID-19 is a new infection, there are “extremely well-developed practices and procedures” for dealing with such a situation.

“I am 100 per cent confident that my staff are working well with the long-term care providers to ensure that every measure is being taken,” she said.

Other measures in effect at Seven Oaks include ongoing assessment of all residents and staff, tray dining, separation of linens, and enhanced cleaning.

Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said that all city-operated long-term care homes continue to provide 24-hour care and service.

However visitors are not being allowed at the homes in order to reduce the chance of transmission.

Paramedic chief says EMS properly equipped

Toronto Paramedic Services Chief Gord McEachen also spoke at the news conference and said the paramedic who tested positive came forward yesterday and was in touch with Toronto Public Health.

McEachen did not say whether the paramedic might have contracted the virus while on the job.

“Our paramedics are extremely professional,” he said. “Their personal health and safety is our most important aspect of responding to the public’s needs in emergency settings.”

He added that he’s not concerned about the current level of service that Toronto Paramedic Services is able to provide and that he believes there is enough equipment on-hand for paramedics to handle the current outbreak safely.

A city release added that paramedics are “highly-trained” on how to approach people with symptoms of COVID-19 and are equipped with personal protective equipment such as gloves, N95 masks, and eye protection and cleaning supplies.

“Dispatchers screen all patients calling for emergency service and communicate any risk to responders,” the release said. “Pre-shift screening has also been implemented at all Toronto Paramedics Services’ facilities with staff completing a mandatory assessment and providing a temperature reading prior to every shift.”

Measures in place to cope with spread among the homeless population

City officials have previously said they expect the pandemic to hit Toronto’s homeless population. The city announced earlier this week that it was taking several steps to try and manage a potential outbreak among people experiencing homelessness.

“I think we have always been talking about the expectation that we would see some degree of community transmission,” de Villa said. “This is anticipated and we’ve tried to make sure our community was prepared for this eventuality.”

Mary-Anne Bedard, the city’s general manager of shelter, support & housing administration, said that while the individual waited for their test results, they were residing in an isolation centre set up by the city for just that purpose.

“I’m confident that we’ve taken the steps that are necessary,” Bedard said. “We were hoping to keep this out of the shelter system for as long as we could and now obviously we’re moving to contain it.”

Bedard said Toronto Pubic Health will be conducting an investigation to determine who the person may have had contact with and she added that the city has detailed data about people’s movement through the shelter system, which will help in the investigation.

“We anticipate fully being able to cooperate with Toronto Public Health’s investigation,” she said.

As the number and type of cases increase, de Villa said it is more important than ever that people heed the social distancing guidelines being promoted by all levels of government.

“I know it’s difficult to hear and it’s difficult to think about the fact that that some of the most vulnerable members of our community are now affected by this,” de Villa said.

“That’s why I would again go back to urging members of the public, including members of our business community, to get behind social distancing to protect themselves, their families and yes, other members of our community, including the most vulnerable members of our community.”

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