Toronto’s top doctor confirmed seven new deaths and 121 new cases of COVID-19 in the city Wednesday.

This pushes the total number of cases in the city to 1,570, including 1,332 confirmed cases and 238 probable cases.

Of those 1,570, the city says that 156 patients are currently in hospital, 71 of which are being treated in an intensive care unit.

“Sadly, there have been a total of 49 deaths from COVID-19 in Toronto,” the city's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “I know that you will join me in extending sincerest condolences to the families and friends of all individuals who have died from COVID-19 in our community.”

De Villa also confirmed that there have been eight more COVID-19-related deaths at a Scarborough long-term care home. A total of 16 residents of Seven Oaks long-term care home, located near Neilson and Ellesmere roads, have died due to the virus, including eight other deaths confirmed last week. De Villa noted that four other deaths are still under investigation.

There are currently 45 confirmed cases and 56 probable cases of COVID-19 among the 249 residents.

“We are continuing to work closely with Seven Oaks to ensure that all outbreak measures are in place and that staff, residents and families are supported as best as possible during these very difficult circumstances,” de Villa said, adding that the rate of new infections is starting to slow down at the facility due to health measures put in place.

De Villa also provided an update on how the city’s shelter system is combatting the virus after a positive case was confirmed at Seaton House on Tuesday.

“My team continues to work with staff at Seaton House to ensure that enhanced infection prevention and control measures are being implemented, including ongoing efforts to increase physical distancing amongst clients,” de Villa said of the emergency men’s shelter located near Jarvis and Gerrard streets.

“By the end of this week another 80 clients will be moved from Seaton House to new spaces to achieve optimal physical distancing within this facility.”

De Villa added that on-site testing is also being completed at Seaton House in an effort to identify other potential cases of COVID-19.

Guidance on face masks for the public

De Villa also weighed in on the efficacy of face masks after Canada's top doctor said Monday that wearing a simple cloth mask is a way for residents to avoid spreading the illness to others.

“Let me first say that the best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid close contact with others. This means staying at home as much as possible and when you go out to practice physical distancing.”

“In these situations, when you are outside your home, wearing a cloth mask or a non-medical mask can prevent your respiratory droplets and your germs from spreading to others."

“Even if you don’t have symptoms, by wearing a cloth mask you may be better able to keep your germs to yourself.” 

However, de Villa warned that wearing a cloth mask or a scarf has not been proven to protect the wearer from the germs of others. She also said that wearing a non-medical mask is not a replacement for trusted methods of fighting the spread of COVID-19, such as physical distancing, staying at home and hand washing.

For Torontonians interested in following the new guidance on face masks, de Villa offered several tips to keep users safe, including making sure that the mask fits your face properly, not sharing your mask with others and washing your hands thoroughly before putting the mask on and after taking it off. De villa also suggested avoiding touching your face when you put the mask on or take it off and avoid touching the mask while using it.

At the same time, de Villa underscored the importance of medical masks, such as the N95, for the city's healthcare workers and first responders.

“We have to ensure that these essential workers have the supplies they need to take good care of us.”

Update on recalled masks

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said that the “poor quality” masks that were recalled by the city a day earlier had been used by more than 200 workers at two long-term care homes, including Seven Oaks.

"As I advised yesterday, immediately upon becoming aware of the issues with surgical masks we took action and recalled them," Pegg said. "We also initiated a full occupational health and safety investigation to insure any potential impacts to both our staff and residents are understood and mitigated effectively."

On Tuesday, the city recalled 200,000 surgical masks after reports of "ripping and tearing" in the product. The order of 4,000 boxes containing 50 masks per box was received on March 28, of which 62,500 masks (or 1,252 boxes) were distributed to the city’s long-term care homes.

The city said that the masks that were manufactured in China are being returned and that the vendor has committed to a full refund.

Since then, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the province has committed to providing 200,000 replacement masks to ensure the city has enough personal protective equipment.