Toronto plans to reopen 119 community centres on Monday for limited use and with restrictions as the number of new COVID-19 infections continues a “slow decline.”
The community centres include 29 with indoor pools that will reopen for lane and leisure swimming.
Toronto Mayor John Tory made the announcement at a city hall news conference, saying there will be changes.
“We will have to do community centres differently,” Tory told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
People will be able to make use of lounges, meeting and multi-purpose rooms, computer labs and washrooms at community centres. But they will not be able to use gymnasiums, fitness or active areas, including walking tracks, as well as kitchens, studios, saunas and whirlpools.
There will be no indoor sports, fitness and wellness activities, singing and dancing programs, food preparation and dining activities where equipment or supplies are passed around or shared among people. There will also be no activities such as card games, chess or dominoes.
Tory said the city expects some of these amenities and activities will resume when the city moves into Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan.
“Visitors will be screened upon entry and will be asked for contact information for contact tracing, should it be required,” the city said in a news release on Wednesday.
The community centres will have barriers at service counters. People must wear face masks when visiting a community centre, but of course, not when swimming.
A maximum of 10 people will be permitted in any community room. Capacity at indoor pools will be reduced to 25 per cent, similar to that of outdoor pools, to ensure swimmers can engage in physical distancing.
Swimmers will be limited to sessions of 45 minutes each and the sessions will be followed by cleaning.
Community centres that offer CampTO programs will have restrictions on access and use during camp hours. That includes drop-off and pick-up periods.
Signs will be installed to reinforce physical distancing and admission rules and regular cleaning of common facilities such as washrooms and water fountains will take place.
City continuing ‘to move in the right direction’
The news comes as the city continues to make progress in the fight against COVID-19.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health, reported 59 new COVID-19 infections in Toronto over the past two days. The number brings the city’s cumulative total to 14,956.
“I’m pleased to share that the increase of 14 cases reported yesterday was the smallest number of new cases in quite some time. This shows that we continue to move in the right direction,” de Villa said.
A total of 13,259 people have recovered, an increase of 111 since Monday. A total of 1,126 have died of COVID-19, with 145 in hospital, 30 in intensive care units and 23 intubated.
Men over 60 with health conditions at risk of severe illness
According to the city’s COVID-19 dashboard, the city’s status remains yellow, with two key indicators being yellow and the other two being green.
“Our numbers on hospitalizations and outbreaks continue to move in the right direction. I’m also pleased to share that the percentage of laboratory tests positive for COVID-19 continues to go down. Overall, our local COVID-19 cases continue to decline, but it is a slow decline,” she said.
“This tells us we need to be vigilant in our measures to make sure we continue to see lower COVID-19 activity in our city.”
De Villa said Toronto Public Health is working on a “deeper data analysis” to help the public health unit track patterns and trends and what has changed since the pandemic hit the city in March. It is working on an updated analysis of how COVID-19 has affected different populations, according to such factors as race and income and she said officials will share an update soon.
Public health officials have been asked whether there are any risk factors for severe illness due to COVID-19 and data analysis has found that severely ill patients were more likely to be men over age 60 with pre-existing health conditions, mostly prominently cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
This finding is consistent with what has been reported in Ontario, she added.
Since the start of the outbreak in Toronto, about 12 per cent of cases have been hospitalized, four per cent have been in intensive care units and three per cent have been intubated.
In other cities, surges in COVID-19 linked to bars
As Toronto moves closer to entering Stage 3, where bars will be allowed to reopen, De Villa said it is important to note that surges in COVID-19 have been linked to bars, where people are gathering and drinking alcohol and being less careful about following public health measures.
“If we want to keep our cases down in our city, we need to be careful and learn from these experiences, and to continue following our public health and physical distancing measures,” she said.
De Villa also announced that the Ontario health ministry is organizing a community pop-up testing centre in Toronto’s Black Creek area on Saturday. The site will be located at the Christian Centre Church, 4545 Jane St., and will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m
City to house refugees in vacant units in TCHC buildings
In other news, Tory said the city will make use of vacant units in four Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) buildings to provide temporary accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers.
The buildings are slated for demolition as part of the revitalization of Regent Park and the use of the building is part of attempts by the city to increase physical distancing in shelters, the mayor added.
People will move in gradually starting this month. There are up to 70 units in four buildings and up to 160 clients will be housed until the end of the year. The site will operate until the people have found permanent housing or by December 15, in keeping with the revitalization schedule.
WoodGreen Community Services, a community agency, will provide supports for the newcomers experiencing homelessness. These include resettlement services, referrals to community supports and help with developing a permanent housing plan.
Each unit will have high-speed, low-cost internet access, paid for by the city at a discounted rate.
Since mid-March, the city’s shelter, support and housing administration division has moved more than 3,200 people experiencing homelessness off the streets.
The division has provided interim housing for at least 150 people and permanent housing for more than 1,300 people, the city said in a news release on Wednesday.