A Toronto city worker operates a Zamboni on the skating rink outside of Toronto City Hall on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.
The City of Toronto is planning for a “worst case scenario” in which 50 to 60 per cent of its frontline staff are sick or isolating as a result of COVID-19 exposures and some non-essential services have to be “adjusted or cancelled,” Mayor John Tory says.
Tory made the comment during a briefing at city hall on Tuesday morning as he discussed the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and the impact that could have on the delivery of services over the coming weeks.
His comments come as Toronto Public Library announces that it will close 44 of its 96 branches as of Monday due to staffing shortages.
GO Transit is also planning to introduce a new reduced schedule next week as it works to keep its services running amid a high number of staff absences that has already forced it to cancel dozens of trips.
“We are planning for worst case scenarios, worst case, up to and including illness rates as high as 50 to 60 per cent so that we have the plans for that possible scenario. Hopefully those plans never have to be implemented but it is good to have a plan and we will indeed have robust, proper and thorough plans in that regard,” Tory said. ““We want people to know that there are these plans and to know of them so that they’re not surprised when some non-critical and non-essential services are adjusted or cancelled, which will then allow us to redeploy staff to support essential and critical services.”
During the first wave of the pandemic the city temporarily suspended a number of services in anticipation of a staffing crunch, including yard waste pick up.
At this point it is unclear which services could be paused or scaled back should the city experience a surge in Omicron-related absences but Tory said that staff are in the midst of a “methodical” review and hope to provide the public with more information about contingency plans later this week.
In the meantime, Tory said that the city remains “laser focused” on ensuring critical services continue to operate.
“Toronto’s emergency services will continue to respond to emergency calls without interruption and critical operations will continue so that safe drinking water comes out of your tap, the snow gets cleared and the garbage gets picked up, among other services,” he said. There will be adjustments and there is cooperation already taking place between these services as needed. But we take it as job one to keep doing what we have done all the way along, to maintain those critical and essential services for Torontonians at all times during the remainder of the pandemic.”
FIREFIGHTERS RESPONDING TO LOW-PRIORITY PARAMEDIC CALLS
Ontario has seen an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases over the last several weeks and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore warned on Monday that absentee rates of 20 to 30 per cent are likely across most sectors this month.
Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, who is charge of the city’s emergency task force, told reporters on Tuesday that Toronto’s emergency services are already relying on “overtime and shift extensions” to mitigate the effect of increased absentee rates.
He said that some protocols have also been adjusted to, for example, allow firefighters to respond to low priority paramedic calls where there is “no clear indication” of an injury.
Meanwhile, the city has established a pool of about 1,000 other employees who can be redeployed to support other essential services if need be.
The changes come as municipalities find it increasingly difficult to deliver services.
Last week, the City of Vaughan made a proactive decision to close a number of its facilities, including most of its libraries, in response to the high number of staff absences.