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Second case of COVID-19 reported in Toronto's shelter system, city confirms
A homeless person is seen in downtown Toronto, on Wednesday, January 3, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)
Codi Wilson, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, March 24, 2020 3:15PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 24, 2020 5:50PM EDT
Public health officials have confirmed that a second person in Toronto’s shelter system has tested positive for COVID-19.
The new case, the city says, has no connection to the person who tested positive last week.
Officials say both individuals are recovering in isolation and Shelter, Support & Housing Administration (SSHA) is working with Toronto Public Health to determine who may have come in close contact with the two patients.
“There is no evidence of an outbreak in our shelter system,” the city said in a news release issued Monday.
Speaking at a news conference at city hall on Tuesday afternoon, Mary Anne Bedard, the general manager of SSHA, confirmed that the two members of the homeless population who tested positive for the virus were at two separate locations.
“We’ve had two positive cases at two different physical locations and in two different programs. So one was a respite program and one was a regular shelter program,” Bedard said. “We are working with Toronto Public Health as they do their contact investigation.”
She noted that the city has set up a dedicated isolation site for people experiencing homelessness who are waiting for results of COVID-19 tests.
When fully operational, the city says there will be 40 rooms available for isolated households waiting for results.
Bedard also said that a COVID-19 recovery site for members of the homeless population will likely be open on Thursday.
The city says nine new facilities with more than 350 spaces have been opened in the past seven days to “create further physical distancing” for those in shelters, respites and drop-ins.
Officials added that in some cases, community and recreation centres closed during the suspension of non-essential services will be reopened to “support distancing efforts.” Space has also been acquired at hotels and motels.
Bedard said her department has been focusing creating new spaces for the 24-hour respite programs as those sites allow for less than six feet between sleeping.
“Within shelters, although we are trying to reduce capacity in those programs, there are already opportunities in place to create the social distancing that is required,” she said, adding that six feet is already the standard at shelters.
“We are focusing on the programs that have the most risk,” she said.
Bedard also said the city has been providing community agencies with tips on how to create social distancing at shelters, including creating shifts for meals.
“There is lot of creative things going on across the shelter system,” she said.
At the province’s daily COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said it is an “ongoing challenge” to protect people experiencing homelessness amid a pandemic.
“It is a group that is at high-risk for acquiring infection. It is a group at high risk of having serious infection,” she said, noting that members of the homeless population should be considered part of the “priority group” for virus testing.
“It is an ongoing challenge to look at how you keep them not as crowded with good infection prevention and control, good identification of infection, (and) good access to care.”
City urges affordable housing providers to be ‘flexible’
Meanwhile, city officials said Tuesday that they are taking steps to prevent tenants in social and affordable housing from being evicted.
“SSHA has also issued broad direction today to over 200 social and affordable housing providers responsible for over 33,000 units reinforcing that the housing stability of residents is a top priority,” the city’s news release read.
“Housing providers have been directed to be flexible, exercise discretion, and to work with households whose employment-related income is affected by the current emergency.”
Bedard said social housing providers are “committed to working” with the city.
“TCHC is committed to working with us. Maintaining tenancies is one of the most important things that (we) are working on,” she said. “They are absolutely open to having those conversations with tenants who have had a change in their income and are going to have difficulty paying rent on April 1.
She noted that officials are also looking at adjusting rent-geared-to-income payments to reflect reduced incomes.