The City of Toronto will now publicly identify the location of some COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces as it seeks to improve transparency amid a surge in infections.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa announced the change on Monday afternoon, as she reported an additional 974 new cases of COVID-19 in the city over the last 24 hours.

She said that starting today Toronto Public Health will release the location of workplace outbreaks on a weekly basis in circumstances where there is rampant or “sustained transmission” and “the workplace is large enough that the risk of privacy concerns are mitigated.”

She said that Toronto Public Health will also be providing more detailed information about the sectors where outbreaks are being reported.

Previously Toronto Public Health grouped all workplaces together but going forward it will put them into 11 different categories – bars and restaurants, event venues and religious facilities, non-institutional medical health services, personal care service settings, recreational fitness facilities, retail settings, farms, food processing plants, offices, warehouses, construction and manufacturing settings and other workplaces.

The data released on Monday afternoon shows that of the 302 workplace outbreaks reported during the pandemic, nearly half (132) fell into a broad category made up of offices, warehouses, shipping and distribution facilities, manufacturing facilities and construction sites.

The category with the second highest number of outbreaks at 41 included bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues while food processing facilities accounted for 31 outbreaks and retail businesses accounted for 24 outbreaks.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum Toronto Public Health has only been made aware of eight outbreaks at recreational facilities and one outbreak at a personal care business during the pandemic. There have been 14 outbreaks at event venues and religious facilities.

The location of most of the city's 16 active workplace outbreaks has been withheld but Toronto Public Health has named three businesses that it says "pose a significant public health risk." Those are Sofina Foods Inc., DECIEM and TTM Technologies Inc.

“I believe this kind of transparency and public accountability will help encourage employers to do everything they can to protect their workers and it will help give everyone a better indication of where the COVID-19 virus is spreading in our community,” de Villa said in making the announcement.

Toronto’s Board of Health first asked de Villa to consider posting the location of workplace outbreaks back in September.

At the time she said that she would explore the idea but she also spoke of a need to ensure that the privacy of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 is protected.

That meant that it was left up to individual employers to report outbreaks and some either never came to light publicly or were only confirmed after the fact, such as one at a industrial bakery with 180 cases in the spring.

Speaking with reporters on Monday, de Villa said that releasing more information about the location of workplace outbreaks where appropriate is “the right thing to do” but she said Torontonians shouldn’t forget that COVID-19 is spreading everywhere right now.

“Whatever the specific figures at this point in the pandemic COVID-19 infection can be acquired anywhere and should be thought about as such,” de Villa said. “In Toronto more than half of infections are resulting from close contact with a confirmed cases. If COVID-19 gets into your home it is very likely it will spread through our home so the best thing we can do is to act to prevent it from getting there in the first place.”

In addition to the new reporting rules around outbreaks, Toronto Public Health is also releasing a series of new recommendations for essential workplaces that are continuing to operate amid the provincewide lockdown.

Those recommendations are as follows:

  • That businesses immediately notify Toronto Public Health when they become aware of two or more employees with COVID-19 and designate a contact to work in coordination with Toronto Public Health in implementing any measures required to reduce the spread of the virus
  • That employers minimize instances where more than one individual is travelling in a vehicle associated with the work of that business
  • That businesses implement rigorous and frequent cleaning in all high-touch areas
  • That businesses ensure regular assessments of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems
  • That businesses ensure the physical distancing of employees by at least two metres where reasonably possible