Across Ward 13, you and thousands of Torontonians are respecting physical distancing guidelines. You are working from home, and giving up visits with friends and loved ones. In parks, you are staying off closed paths and play structures. When you do go outside, it is for brief exercise or to shop for essentials. But on the densely populated and narrow sidewalks of Toronto, that is impossible to do safely while respecting the 2-metre distance required by Public Health.
Ward 13 is home to some of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the downtown core. Over 50,000 people live in St. James Town and the Church Wellesley neighbourhoods alone. With tens of thousands more along Yonge Street and in the St Lawrence Market area, our neighbours are more likely to be young families living in condos, to be in modestly sized apartments, to not have access to front yards and back porches, to live below the poverty line and to be newcomers. These are all people who, even when practising physical distancing, need to use public spaces and streets for exercise or to purchase essential goods such as groceries and medicine.
On March 23, exactly ten days after the City of Toronto issued a notice to cancel most programs and close numerous public facilities as a COVID-19 precaution, I sent a request to Dr. de Villa, Mayor Tory and Chief Pegg to ask that they consider opening dense urban streets, such as Yonge Street, to people and temporarily close them to cars to allow for physical distancing. The experience for most of us living downtown is that pedestrians on narrow sidewalks have difficulty passing one another as recommended in the COVID-19 urban environment. It is mathematically impossible to maintain the required 2-metre separation distance when most sidewalks weren’t even that wide.
At that time, I was told that opening the streets to people and active transportation could risk sending contradictory messaging and inadvertently encourage congregation and gatherings. These stakes were too high. I was hopeful that they would continue to look for a solution that would allow residents to use the streets as sidewalks safely. Instead, we’ve seen a reliance on police and enforcement officers issuing warnings and heavy fines in our parks. I find it challenging to understand how people standing too close together in a public park warrants an $800 fine, without a design solution that would allow for residents to maintain a safe physical distance on our public sidewalks.
Narrow sidewalks and dense populations are not a challenge unique to Toronto. Cities across the world have already begun changing the allocation of their roads to make more space for pedestrians. It was a matter of health equity. In Canada, Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary have all announced measures they are taking to make it safer for pedestrians to practice physical distancing outside. Some cities are creating temporary bike lanes, while others are making pedestrian call buttons automatic.
In addition to the need to use the sidewalk to get essential items, fresh air and exercise, they are also critical for maintaining good mental health. As the COVID-19 lockdown goes on, I am worried about what happens when the weather gets warmer. I know that many residents in Ward 13 don't have access to air conditioners or balconies. The majority of us, including those with young children, don't have to backyards.
I worry that it is just a matter of time before we start seeing more people outside. Preventing clusters of people by creating safe ways for them to be outside is also critical for our residents’ mental and physical health. I want to be clear that I am not encouraging anyone to use the streets to host block parties, or even as a place to congregate. Rather, this is simply a necessary measure to allow people to use public sidewalks safely if they need to pass another person.
We have already seen residents begin to take the road to create more space on the sidewalks. But that isn’t always a safe option. In an open letter to Toronto’s Mayor and Council from two epidemiologists at Ryerson University, Dr. Anne Harris and Dr. Linda Rothman note that “lighter traffic seems to be encouraging increased speed of motor vehicles, posing additional injury risks to vulnerable road users including pedestrians and cyclists and possibly increasing severity of these injuries. Severe injuries competing for hospital resources is particularly counterproductive to COVID-19 management.”
Thank you to the many residents who have emailed my office and Mayor Tory advocating for a more equitable public space allocation. We need to find creative and community-based solutions to ensure everyone can be outside when necessary and still be safe.
Opening our streets to give pedestrians more public space is one way we could do that. I look forward to working with all civic leaders in the weeks ahead to find a suitable public health resolution to this important issue.
Support for those experiencing homelessness:
Thank you to everyone who emailed the Mayor and other levels of government to show your support for helping get people off the streets, out of the crowded shelters and into suitable housing now.
Managing Toronto’s homelessness crisis within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak requires measures that go far beyond the status quo. The City of Toronto in partnership with all orders of governments must commit to getting suitable housing for everyone in our shelter system, and those living outside. We must immediately release tangible actions that can be clearly tracked, with timelines and progress reports to the public, our shelter and service providers through the daily updates. We need to make sure that we are providing adequate sanitation and nutrition to people outside. We need to make sure that the frontline staff have adequate PPE and safety supplies.
With the support of government and community partners, we can and should build more housing, but until that happens, we must help people get off the streets and out of the crowded shelters now.
I know it is challenging to see people outside who are not practicing physical distancing, and I know our community wants to help. Please keep the pressure on all of us and continue to email the Mayor, Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and advocate to immediately house vulnerable individuals. The faster we can get them into proper supportive housing and hotel accommodations, the sooner they can isolate safely.
Thank you for your resilience, it is an honour to represent you.
Community Care in Ward 13
Our Community Care shoutout today goes to The Safehaven Project for Community Living who have been providing high-quality community-based care for over 30 years. As an organization, Safehaven sets out to address the physical and attitudinal barriers that surround individuals with medically complex care needs. In light of the growth and evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, additional gaps in the developmental sector are being illuminated, leaving the individuals they care for increasingly vulnerable. Not only is Safehaven addressing these gaps, but they are also demonstrating their leadership by developing and updating a resource portal to support the public in accessing resources to help them through this time. They’ve compiled lots of helpful resources, including government updates, self-care information, community partner resources, and more.
Through this crisis, Safehaven continues to address the gaps in the developmental sector by taking the steps necessary to prepare and adapt so they can respond to the needs of our vulnerable communities and maintain the health and safety of their clients, families, and employees. These unprecedented circumstances have provided an opportunity for communities to come together and support one another. Despite our current climate, they remain nimble while addressing the need for increased funding, sourcing additional personal protective wear and infection, prevention control equipment, and highly-trained personnel. Thank you for your continued work! Learn more about Safehaven here.
I also want to mention that some neighbourhoods have been cheering on our essential workers at both 7:00pm and 7:30pm. If your neighbourhood is cheering on essential workers at either of these times (or any other time), it is deeply appreciated. I know there is some confusion about what is the right time, but I would encourage each community to continue their evening cheers at whichever time works for them. Our essential workers feel your appreciation!
Please continue to email my office at firstname.lastname@example.org to share examples of community care in your neighbourhood and ways you are supporting your community at this time. I’ll be happy to promote it, space permitting, in our communication to the residents and business owners in Ward 13. Every bit goes a long way!
Keep Practising Physical Distance!
As the City of Toronto evokes these new measures for public health, please remember to keep practising social distancing. I know it’s challenging, and I thank you for your continued hard work. Please remember to stay off of closed parks amenities and facilities, or you may be subjected to a fine. If you must leave your home, please stay at least 6 ft (2 metres) away from others on the streets. These measures are crucial to protect the greater public health.
The single best way for Torontonians to support each other right now is to stay home and practise physical distancing to prevent COVID-19 spread.
- If you have symptoms of illness, do not leave your home under any circumstance until you have spoken with a medical professional and been given the all-clear.
- If you have just returned from travel, do not leave your home under any circumstance for 14 days.
- And even if you are not sick and have not travelled, unless you work in an essential industry, stay at home except for essential trips.
Thank you for doing your part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help protect our communities. For more tips on social distancing, please visit toronto.ca/covid19.
City of Toronto COVID-19 Updates
As we know, today there are 30 cases of COVID-19 in our shelter system. Given the scale of this pandemic, additional cases are expected. The City, with the help of our community and health sector partners, has put measures in place for active screening, testing and providing isolation spaces to slow transmission and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our emergency shelter system. Learn more about the City of Toronto Shelter Support & Housing Strategy here.
Support Small Businesses
The City of Toronto will be continuing street sweeping services that will be taking place during the day and in the evenings, servicing both neighbourhood and main roads throughout April. Street sweeping helps to remove dust, dirt and other contaminants that would otherwise enter the environment. It also assists in improving the overall air quality and is an important part of Toronto’s flood prevention strategy, since litter and debris are removed from roadway catch basins. These are critical services to help keep our city clean and our infrastructure maintained.
Despite drops in traffic volumes, the city has seen a dramatic increase in stunt driving and speeding on our streets through reports from Toronto Police. Starting this week, officers from the Toronto Police Service’s Vision Zero Enforcement Team will begin rotating in daily shifts across the city and patrol for motorists who are speeding or stunt driving. All red light cameras in the city are active and tickets are being issued to motorists who disobey traffic signals. I urge Toronto drivers to take extra care navigating our streets as many pedestrians and vulnerable road users have taken to walking on the roads to maintain physical distance while outside. This is not an opportunity to speed or race down streets. As always, please practice caution while driving.
I know it’s challenging, but please do continue to stay home as much as you can and only leaving for essential trips. When you do leave your house, please make sure you are at least 6 feet away from one another, and upon return immediately wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. These seemingly small acts help save lives.
Province of Ontario Updates
Ontario Extends Declaration of Emergency
Yesterday, the Ontario legislature approved the extension of the Declaration of Emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act for an additional 28 days.
The extension of the provincial declaration of emergency allows Ontario to continue to enforce current emergency orders, such as the closure of all non-essential workplaces, outdoor amenities such as parks and recreational areas, public places and bars and restaurants, as well as restrictions on social gatherings of more than five people, and prohibitions against price-gouging. A full list of emergency orders can be found on the province’s e-Laws website under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
Action Plan to Protect Long-Term Care Residents
The COVID-19 Action Plan: Long-Term Care Homes was announced today by Premier Doug Ford, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott, and Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care.
The COVID-19 Action Plan: Long-Term Care Homes increases measures to prevent further outbreaks and deaths from COVID-19 in long-term care homes, including:
- Aggressive Testing, Screening, and Surveillance: enhancing testing for symptomatic residents and staff and those who have been in contact with persons confirmed to have COVID-19; expanding screening to include more asymptomatic contacts of confirmed cases; and leveraging surveillance tools to enable care providers to move proactively against the disease.
- Managing Outbreaks and Spread of the Disease: supporting long-term care homes with public health and infection control expertise to contain and prevent outbreaks; providing additional training and support for current staff working in outbreak conditions.
- Growing our Heroic Long-Term Care Workforce: redeploying staff from hospitals and home and community care to support the long-term care home workforce and respond to outbreaks, alongside intensive on-going recruitment initiatives.
Additional measures under development will help to ensure preparedness and respond to the situation as it evolves, including improving isolation capacity at long-term care homes. Examples include:
- Enhanced testing and surveillance for symptomatic residents and staff and those in contact with persons confirmed to have COVID-19;
- Testing of asymptomatic residents and staff in select homes across the province to better understand how COVID-19 is spreading;
- Risk and capacity assessments for all homes;
- Working with Ontario Health, the Ontario Hospital Association, and public health units to assemble infection control and preventions teams and additional supports
The Province of Ontario maintains an online list of businesses and workplaces it considers essential. If residents or businesses are not sure if a workplace qualifies, you can contact the Stop the Spread Business Information Line at 1-888-444-3659.
The province has deemed the most ongoing residential construction to be essential during this pandemic. It has also overridden the City’s noise by-law during this pandemic to allow construction to occur between 6am and 10pm. Please contact the above number or e-mail Premier Doug Ford to register your objections.
Government of Canada Updates
Changes are being made to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to increase the number of Canadians who can qualify. The intention is to capture those with jobs but reduced earnings, such as those with multiple jobs, seasonal workers and those whose Employment Insurance has run out this year. Workers who earn less than $1,000 a month or less are now eligible to apply for the CERB.
The Federal Government is also working with the province to increase the pay of essential workers to a minimum of $2,500 a month. Those details are yet to be finalized.
A new online mental health service, Wellness Together Canada has launched to provide remote mental health support. Modules include addressing low mood, worry, substance use, social isolation and relationship issues. This free online resource includes tools, apps and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals. You can visit the Wellness Together Canada website here.
It will be many weeks before the federal government will consider loosening/releasing restrictions, so residents are advised to continue to #StayHome and practice proper safety procedures when they need to be outside. Part of this goal is to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections. The data has shown some cautious optimism that the infection rate is slowing, but Canada is far from the end of this race. Keep helping us flatten the curve.
More updates from the Government of Canada.
COVID-19 Information and Resources
Now is the time to stay informed through credible sources, and to follow the advice of our public health professionals. Together we can limit the spread of COVID-19.
Phone lines for telehealth, TPH and 311 continue to experience very high volumes. Please help keep the phones lines open for people who are sick by visiting the Toronto Public Health COVID-19 website for up-to-date information and resources: toronto.ca/covid-19
Call if you develop symptoms!
Toronto Public Health Hotline
8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Call if you have questions about COVID-19.
Outside City limits: 416-392-2489
Call if you have questions about City services, or to report people
Telephone: 311 (The City is only accepting 311 requests through phone)