The City of Toronto said it is working with providers across the sector to activate additional temporary spaces in the common areas of various shelters as smoky air continues to blanket the GTA.

Outreach teams from Streets to Homes will also be connecting with those living outside to conduct wellness checks, provide water, and encourage people to come indoors, the city said in a statement provided to CTV News Toronto.

During this period of extreme weather, the city said it would also be temporarily suspending all service restrictions and relaxing admissions eligibility requirements for its shelters and respite sites.

Forest fires burning in Quebec and Ontario have led to poor air quality in several major cities in the U.S. and Canada, including New York, Ottawa, and Toronto.

An air quality warning from Environment Canada has been in effect since Monday and on Wednesday, Toronto reached level 7 on the national weather agency’s index, presenting a “high risk” to members of the public.

Currently, air quality statements are in effect for Hamilton, Toronto, Dunnville-Caledonia-Haldimand, Elliot Lake-Ranger Lake, and Greater Sudbury and vicinity. 

The national weather agency is urging those who have lung disease, older adults, children, pregnant people, and people who work outdoors to take precautions to protect their health and reduce their exposure to smoke. People are also being urged to wear a well-fitting respirator mask, if they must spend time outdoors, and check on those who may be more susceptible to smoke.

CP24 Meteorologist Bill Coulter said smoke forecast models suggest Toronto’s air quality will begin to quickly deteriorate Thursday morning.

“We will really start to see a deterioration of air quality and that will last through the late afternoon to about the dinner hour and then (there will be) a shift in wind directions,” he said earlier today.

“We are looking at a period today from about 7 a.m. through late afternoon that is going to be much worse than yesterday.”

Coulter said a change in wind direction this weekend along with consistent periods of rain should result in improved air quality.

“Today is going to be, I think, the worst we are going to get for this smoke, at least for the current period,” he said.

Many Torontonians have reported feeling an itchy or burning sensation in their eyes and throats after spending time outdoors over the past few days.Dr. John Granton, the head of respirology at the University Health Network, told CP24 Thursday that while some tight-fitting, high quality masks will help filter out some of the dangerous particles, the best advice is for people to stay indoors.

"Usually as the air quality index gets worse, the exposure pollutants in the air increases. It is not so much the stuff you taste, which can irritate your upper airway… but it is really those smaller particles and gases that get into the lower airways that cause the health problems," he said.

He said people with underlying lung conditions are at the greatest risk of adverse health effects.

"It is also unfortunately the individuals who are at risk in our society who can’t escape from it. So people who are homeless and don’t have access to sheltered space, can’t close their windows, don’t have air purifiers," he said.

"The strongest recommendation is to stay indoors and avoid going outside unless you have to." 

Toronto smog

The poor air quality has prompted many schools in the GTA to move recess indoors and cancel strenuous outdoor activities. City-run daycares have also suspended outdoor activity.

Late Thursday afternoon, the Toronto District School Board said it has advised principals to monitor the Air Quality Health Index throughout the day and make a determination to either proceed with outdoor recess and activities or consider moving indoors, if the air quality is high risk. Any students who wish to stay inside and/or are experiencing symptoms will be accommodated, the board said in a statement.

The City of Toronto has cancelled some of its outdoor recreation programs for Thursday and the Toronto Zoo says it is reducing its operating hours amid the smoky conditions. 

-With files from CTV Toronto's Phil Tsekouras and CP24's Bryann Aguilar