Mayor John Tory pledged Tuesday that Toronto’s government will maintain emergency, vaccination and other essential services in the coming days and weeks, even as COVID-19-related staffing shortages forces the closure of dozens of city libraries.
At a press conference Tuesday, Tory said the city is redeploying staff from non-critical departments to critical ones as it plans for a high number of unplanned staff absences caused by the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
He said the city is preparing for a worst-case scenario where as many as 50 to 60 per cent of city staff can’t work because they are sick, are isolating due to symptoms or because they are a household contact of someone with the virus.
“Toronto’s emergency services will continue to respond to calls without interruption. 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,” said Tory, who was joined by Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa and general manager of emergency management Matthew Pegg.
“We are laser focused on making sure that the essential and critical city services that residents rely on continue to be delivered.”
Toronto’s essential services also include the operation of homeless shelters, long-term care homes, some aspects of children’s services and public transit, the officials said.
Tory said a full plan will be released later this week.
“We want people to know that there are these plans, and to know of them, so they’re not surprised when some non-critical and non-essential services are adjusted or cancelled,” he said.
COVID-19-related staffing shortages are already having an impact on city services. The Toronto Public Library (TPL) announced Tuesday it is temporarily closing 44 branches starting Monday, Jan. 10, while continuing to operate 52 of the largest and most-used branches.
“These operational changes will enable TPL’s branches, including those serving Neighbourhood Improvement Areas, to continue to offer consistent and equitable library services across the city,” TPL said in a news release.
The update comes one day after the provincial government announced the return of sweeping restrictions to combat record-high COVID-19 case counts driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant that threaten to overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system.
The restrictions, which come into effect Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 12:01 a.m., move Ontario back to a modified version of Step Two of the province’s Roadmap to Reopen, which was first implemented earlier last year. They include moving schools online for at least two weeks, temporarily closing indoor dining, gyms as well as many other businesses for three weeks, and pausing non-urgent medical procedures.
2 GTA hospitals under ‘code orange’
According to Public Health Ontario, Toronto recorded at least 3,006 cases on Jan. 2 and 2,480 on Jan. 3, the latest dates for which data are available. Those numbers are likely underestimates, PHO has said in its daily epidemiological summaries, because of changes in the availability of PCR testing.
Toronto Public Health (TPH) hasn’t reported new case counts since Dec. 31 and stopped reporting other data over the holidays. TPH says it will provide a more fulsome update on Wednesday.
Ontario reported at least 11,352 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and another rise in hospitalizations and ICU admissions on Tuesday.
The Omicron wave is overburdening some Greater Toronto Area hospitals. William Osler Health System, which oversees Etobicoke General and Brampton Civic hospitals, has initiated a “code orange” as COVID patients requiring care and staffing shortages put tremendous strain on its operations.
In a media release Tuesday morning, the city said vaccination efforts over the holidays contributed to a total of 37 per cent of Toronto residents having received a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Jan. 2.
“Team Toronto is focused on ramping up vaccination efforts in response to the Omicron variant and getting first, second and third doses into the arms of all who are eligible,” the release said.
“As we move into the early days of 2022, the vaccine push continues, with 32,599 booked appointments for adult doses in City-run vaccine clinics this first week of January.”
The city continues to offer vaccinations through city-run clinics, hospital partner clinics, local pharmacies and doctors’ offices.