The federal government will provide the city with nearly $14 million in funding to operate a voluntary quarantine facility for people with COVID-19 who can’t safely isolate at home.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu made the announcement during a press conference outside city hall on Friday morning.

She said that the $13.9 million in funding provided by her government will cover the entire cost of operating the 140-bed, hotel-based facility for the next 12 months and will hopefully contribute to a reduction in the spread of the virus within households, particularly for those who have roommates or live in multi-generational homes.

Toronto Public Health is not releasing the location of the facility due to privacy concerns but has indicated that it is proximate to the pockets of the city where residents have proven to be at a “higher risk” of contracting COVID-19.

“Think about people who have to share bedrooms, washrooms or kitchen facilities. It can be incredibly challenging to stay separate from household members when you are sick with COVID-19 and we have heard heartbreaking stories of people knowing that they are ill and knowing that they don’t have the capacity to stop spread within their own home,” Hajdu said in making the announcement. “So this space will be available for people who live in housing that lacks the necessary space to allow for that proper distancing and this will help contribute to a reduction in the spread of the virus.”

Toronto’s Board of Health formally requested funding to operate a voluntary isolation centre back in July and discussions have been ongoing with the federal government since then.

Speaking with reporters at Friday’s news conference, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said that the long-discussed facility will be a “critical part” of the city’s planning as it prepares for a potential resurgence of COVID-19 this fall and winter.

She said that Toronto Public Health staff will determine who is eligible to stay at the facility as part of their usual case and contact investigation process but individuals will ultimately have final say on whether they want to accept the offer.

The expectation, de Villa said, is that those choosing to check into the facility will then stay there for 14 days until such time as they are no longer infectious.

While in the facility, they will be expected to remain in their rooms but will be provided with daily meals and have regular check-ins over the phone with Toronto Public Health staff.

“Everyone who volunteers to stay is doing their part to help reduce virus spread in our city. This is an important act to help protect our residents and our city as we live with COVID-19,” de Villa said.

Facility is first of its kind in Canada

The facility will be the first in Canada once it opens tomorrow but Hajdu said that her government is open to funding similar sites in other municipalities.

The concept is also more common in the United States.

Chicago, for example, operates a free hotel-based facility for people with COVID-19 who do not require any medical support as well as a separate facility for those who require some level of medical support.

New York City has also provided thousands of free hotel rooms for people with COVID-19 who can’t safely isolate at home.

“Data has shown us that low income neighbourhoods have been disproportionately affected in part because individuals living in these communities, once they tested positive, may have then experienced difficulty in being able to properly isolate themselves,” Mayor John Tory said on Friday. “That is why discussions began some time ago (with the federal government).”