Tory calls on employers to embrace work from home ‘until September at the earliest’

Toronto Mayor John Tory is calling on the city’s employers to continue work-from-home initiatives until at least September, a plan that many major companies and organizations have already agreed on.

Tory stressed the need for coordination amid the novel coronavirus crisis, and said keeping people away from their offices will be an important part of the city’s recovery.

“We are finding ways to live with the continuing threat posed by COVID-19,” Tory said at the city’s daily pandemic briefing on Friday.

“We will continue to prioritize remote work.”

Tory lauded what he called the “unprecedented cooperation,” among many of Toronto’s largest employers, including major financial, insurance and communications companies, as well as post-secondary institutions.

You can see a list of employers who have agreed to the plan here.

Keeping more workers at home will help the city manage stress on its transit system and help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in places like offices and elevators, officials said.

“Your collective efforts are helping to protect the health of our city,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health.

“You are saving lives.”

Employees of financial and insurance companies account for about 12 per cent of Toronto’s public transit riders, while more than half of the students at downtown post-secondary campuses use transit, according to figures provided by the city.

Keeping as many people off transit as possible will be of critical importance in the coming months, Tory said, as the TTC expects physical distancing on its vehicles will become impossible in the near future.

By encouraging people to continue working from home, health officials hope to prevent transit vehicles from becoming crowded in the coming months, making it impossible for commuters to physically distance. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Prominent doctor says contact tracing a continuing struggle

A Toronto critical care doctor says the city is still struggling to perform adequate contact tracing for COVID-19, including at least one recent case involving a person considered a high risk for spreading the virus.

Dr. Michael Warner, the medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, said he was “disappointed” after his reaching out to Toronto Public Health about a patient earlier this week.

“I was told that contact tracing would start right away. Unfortunately, when I called the patient’s family more than 24 hours later … they had yet to be contacted by public health,” he told CBC Toronto.

“There’s really no point in informing public health that you have a patient who you think has COVID, unless the contact tracing starts right away.”

The patient, who is not being identified due to privacy considerations, arrived at Michael Garron with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, a diagnosis which was later confirmed in a test.

The patient’s job involves contact with the public, Warner said, making the need for swift contact tracing especially critical.

Toronto Public Health has already faced criticism during the novel coronavirus crisis for failing to conduct contact tracing for dozens of confirmed patients.

De Villa could not comment specifically about Warner’s concerns, but she said there are instances where contact tracers try to call people but cannot reach them in time.

“Sometimes the lack of success in terms of connecting with individuals isn’t for lack of trying,” she said.

“We set fairly high standards for ourselves and [are] seeking to ensure we are as timely as possible.”

Warner, who has emerged as one of Toronto’s most outspoken doctors during the pandemic, said the creation of a robust and reliable contact tracing apparatus is needed before further restrictions are lifted.

“We can’t reopen the economy first, if these very basic functions cannot be executed in a timely manner,” he said.

While contact tracing is considered the responsibility of local health units, the province says it is doing more to help municipalities struggling to keep up with cases.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Friday the province now boasts around 2,000 contact tracers.

“We have an army,” he said at an announcement unveiling Ontario’s latest testing strategy.

Toronto’s latest COVID-19 statistics show 10,901 total cases since the start of the pandemic, 2,005 of which are active, along with 810 deaths.

The city also released detailed geographic data about the spread of the virus this week.