City officials have reported Toronto’s first COVID-19 death of a person who had used its emergency shelter system for homeless people.
A man in his 50s died in hospital on May 8 after he had stayed at Dixon Hall School House emergency shelter, Dr. Eileen de Villa, the Toronto’s medical officer of health, said at a daily news briefing on Monday. The man had been admitted to Etobicoke General Hospital on April 21.
De Villa said there had been an outbreak at the shelter in April before the man died but it had been declared over on May 5. All shelter residents were tested for COVID-19, she said.
Toronto Public Health (TPH) provided guidance to the shelter to ensure there was infection prevention and control measures and physical distancing in place, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, signs about hand washing and COVID-19 symptoms, and active screening of residents, she said. The shelter is near Gerrard Street East and Jarvis Street.
“On behalf of my team, I extend my sincerest condolences to this individual’s friends and family, and to all others in our community who have also lost loved ones to COVID-19,” de Villa added.
De Villa said TPH also investigated all COVID-19 cases at the shelter and instructed staff on how best to triage shelter residents to determine who should be moved to different facilities to go into isolation.
In a statement, Kris Scheuer, spokesperson for Toronto Public Health said: “We are deeply saddened that a man who was experiencing homelessness and was staying in Toronto’s shelter system has died from COVID-related illness. We are thinking of all of those who loved and cared for this man.
“Any death of someone in the shelter system or living outside is something that impacts us all greatly. Staff who work in the homelessness sector, within the city and our partner agencies, do this important work so we can support individuals experiencing homelessness and together work to find solutions to meet the needs of this vulnerable population.”
Mary-Anne Bedard, general manager of the city’s shelter, support and housing administration, told reporters that she believes there are nine people experiencing homelessness in hospital with COVID-19.
589 people have died of COVID-19 in Toronto
De Villa reported that the city has a cumulative total of 7,557 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 144 from what was reported on Sunday.
There have been 589 deaths of COVID-19 in Toronto. A total of 5,340 people have recovered, an increase of 148 from Sunday.
De Villa noted that COVID-19 activity is slowing in Toronto and Ontario, but the city and province are still seeing new infections. About 50 per cent of all newly confirmed cases since Sunday, when the province last reported cases, were in Toronto.
“We need to keep up our commitment to physical distancing to continue to slow the spread of this virus, so that we can safely reopen our city and get back to enjoying time with our loved ones,” she said.
As for tracing close contacts of people who are infected, de Villa said there are more 500 public health staff working on case investigations and contact tracing, and TPH is training more staff every day. It has 45 volunteers supporting these investigations, she added.
TPH is well on its way to meeting the provincial target of reaching 90 per cent of contacts of COVID-19 cases within one day of diagnosis, she said.
New ShopHERE program to help local businesses, artists
Mayor John Tory, who also spoke at the news conference, announced that the city is launching a program, called ShopHERE, to help local businesses and artists build and open online stores for free within days to lessen the pandemic’s economic impact.
The online stores will help residents with curbside pickup of goods and deliveries, he added.
“We know that the economic impact of the pandemic is taking a significant toll on Toronto residents, artists and businesses, particularly the small, independent, main-street businesses and individual artists,” he said.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our neighbourhoods, not just of our economy, but of our neighbourhoods, of our healthy neighbourhoods, and that is why it is is important for us to help them.”
Website developers and marketing and business students are volunteering their time to help, the mayor added.
The program will provide businesses and artists with:
- A template to develop an online store on Shopify that will be customized with their information, branding and logos.
- Hands-on assistance setting up and launching the online store.
- Training and support for digital marketing, shipping and operations.
- Access to free tools and online advertising credits.
An estimated 49,501 Toronto businesses, 7,371 of which are restaurants, bars or cafes, are eligible for the ShopHERE program, Tory said.
The program will run from now through the end of August and the city aims to develop 3,000 new online stores.
A number of companies, including Global Skills Hub, Scotiabank, General Assembly, Brain Station, Juno, FreshBooks, NEXT Canada, TechTO and TribalScale, have said they will participate.
Tory said the program will be delivered through the Digital Main Street platform and businesses can sign up here.
The mayor encouraged other technology companies to get involved.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure we provide those who need help the most with the help that they need.”
The mayor added that he plans to meet again soon with his counterparts in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area to discuss the pandemic’s economic impact and a recovery plan.
“The country is counting on cities, led by Toronto, to make sure that recovery happens,” Tory said.
Asked if the city has a Plan B if the provincial and federal governments decline to help financially with a recovery effort, meaning a plan that would include hiking property taxes or cutting city services dramatically, Tory said no.
“I would say there is no plan B because any of the plan Bs you might contemplate are not acceptable,” he said.
“I don’t think there is any option but for these other governments to step forward.”
Outbreak reported at Salvation Army women’s shelter
The update comes after the Salvation Army confirmed on Monday an outbreak of COVID-19 at a women’s shelter in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood.
Fifteen residents and two staff members at Evangeline Residence, located on Dundas Street near Keele Street, have tested positive for COVID-19, Rob Kerr, spokesperson for the organization, said on Monday.
According to the city’s numbers, as of Friday, May 8, the residence had reported just four cases of the virus.
So far, there are a total of 283 confirmed cases of the virus linked to shelter outbreaks.