One day before the anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, Toronto’s top doctor Eileen de Villa says the city has passed a “sobering milestone.”
There have now been more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city, and nearly 2,700 dead.
“The last year has been one of extraordinary challenge,” de Villa said during a COVID-19 update, encouraging people to “stay at home whenever possible.”
The afternoon press conference follows this morning’s news that Ontario will be giving the city $94.5 million in an attempt to help address outbreaks in homeless shelters.
Of the 20,000 people who used Toronto’s homeless shelter system last year, 711 contracted the disease — and six died with the virus.
One recent outbreak linked to the COVID-19 variant has ripped through the Maxwell Meighen Centre in downtown Toronto, infecting dozens of people.
The $94.5 million is part of $255 million the province is earmarking for municipalities and Indigenous communities specifically to address outbreaks in homeless shelters, as provincial case counts continue to climb.
On Wednesday morning, Ontario reported another 1,316 cases of COVID1-19 and 16 more deaths of people with the illness. The new cases include 428 in Toronto, 244 in Peel Region and 149 in York Region.
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The provincial government says communities can use the new funding to acquire motel and hotel spaces to support physical distancing, hire more shelter staff, and buy more personal protective equipment.
The funds can also be used to purchase cleaning supplies and be added to rent and utility banks to keep people from becoming homeless.
Mayor John Tory welcomed the news, noting in a press release that the funds, in connection with funding announcements made last week, “will cover more than half of the City’s $649 million request for intergovernmental relief funding.”
Tory said the funds announced today will be used to expand the shelter system so that people can maintain physical distance and abide by other COVID-19 protocols, in addition to being used for outreach toward people experiencing homelessness.
To date, the city says it has helped nearly 1,330 people move from encampments into “safe spaces.”
Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said in a statement that with the increase in shelter outbreaks, the province needed to take action.
“This investment will provide our municipal service managers with the financial ability to take any means necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 in shelter spaces,” he said.
Clark said at the outset of the pandemic, the province asked all shelters to develop outbreak management plans and complete infection, prevention and control education.
The province has asked shelter managers to ensure those plans are updated now that variants of concern are on the rise in Ontario, he said.
In late February, Ontario added homeless people to the list of those who qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine under Phase 1 of its plan.
Shelter-system residents were to start receiving their initial vaccine doses last week, the city said at the time.
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