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Let's talk about the second wave of COVID-19


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I’ve been putting off writing about the resurgence of COVID-19 in Toronto and across Ontario. To be honest, I was hoping the upward trend that started in mid-September was a blip that would reverse itself somehow. Then, all that would be required is a discussion of recovery efforts and how to keep the curve flat. Alas, it is anything but flat at the moment.

Second wave

Case counts continue to rise, even after the provincial government put new restrictions on who should get tested. Experts warn that case count alone is not the most reliable measure. They look at a number of factors; for example, hospitalizations are up. This is an indication that we can no longer place the blame on fraternity kids and bar hoppers, as the Premier was fond of doing back in September. Hospitalizations indicate the virus is spreading, once again, in older and more vulnerable populations. In Ontario, 71 long-term care homes are currently experiencing outbreaks.

Toronto's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, says our ability to reach our goals in viral containment or spread is in the "Red" zone. She updates this data publicly in her COVID-19 Monitoring Dashboard three times per week. These are important metrics because Toronto Public Health (TPH) is in charge of virus prevention and control. If TPH is unable to keep up with contact tracing, prevention education and outreach then the hospital system will be in the Red zone soon afterwards.

There is a lot to be scared of with the latest statistics — but we are going into this resurgence knowing much more about the virus than we did in March and we're better supplied. Remember the frantic scramble for face masks back in March? Now, the mask debate is over and it’s hard to walk into any store that doesn't have them for sale right at the cash register.

Recently, I sat through a two-hour virtual course on infection prevention and control (IPAC) and hand-washing in order to be allowed to visit my Dad in long-term care. I was surprised at how much I’ve been shortcutting on the hand-washing over the summer — I doubt I'm the only one for whom the novelty of singing "Happy Birthday" while washing my hands wore off. Here are examples of the lessons I've had to re-learn:

Thanksgiving was a real test of everyone’s social bubbles last week and it is probably best that we look at it as a rehearsal for the holiday season. How did you do? Did you keep your bubble small and avoid hugging and squeezing at all costs?

My daughter and I drove over to a friend’s home to deliver some of my famous homemade Mile High Apple Pie. “Come in, come in,” my friend beckoned. It killed me to say, “No, no, no. We just want you to have your annual pie. Stay safe.”

Building back better

People have had some time to form opinions on COVID-19 management by now, which has led to some constructive suggestions and criticisms of government. That’s perfectly fair. I’m no different — I have also been more vocal as of late.

We need to be much louder and clearer about our need for help from the provincial government to run a safe transit system. We have been struggling without day-to-day operating funding from the province since 1995. That is the reason the TTC was in financial crisis the minute the pandemic began — our transit system relies too heavily on the fare box, and when fares dried up Toronto had an immediate problem. This is in contrast to other cities like Vancouver and Montreal who receive income tax dollars to fund part of their operations.

We need to be much more committed to this trendy new phrase, “Build Back Better." I first heard it in a Joe Biden stump speech, and now I hear it repeated throughout City Hall. It also appears in the massive new report from the Mayor’s blue ribbon consultants, Dr. David Mowat and Mr. Saad Rafi, in the new Toronto Office of Recovery and Rebuild (TORR).

If my hunch is right, the phrase means building back an economy without the giant disparity between CEOs and their senior teams (both in the public and private sector) and the other 90 per cent of humanity who have seen their wages stagnate since the 1980's and thus, were unprepared for this pandemic.

If that's correct, we're already off to a lousy start. At my last TTC Board meeting, despite my objections, we made the choice to give away decent jobs at the Wheel-Trans switchboard to a contracted service that won’t even be in Toronto. The service promises to deliver the same amount of work for about one million dollars fewer a year. However, they do so by paying poor wages to fewer workers. The service quality suffers and a few more Toronto workers join the housing and food bank lines that your tax dollars pay for.

If we really want to build back better, every Councillor needs to devote this weekend to deeply reading the report from TORR before it is presented at the Mayor’s Executive Committee next week. Here is an abbreviated look at what the experts in TORR are saying: Dear Toronto,

  1. You can't rebuild using property tax funds alone. You need to start thinking holistically and partner more with other levels of government.

  2. What is Toronto's intergovernmental affairs strategy, anyway? Looks like a lot of requests, multi-panelist tables and dozens and dozens of priorities. You need to take stock of this mixed bag and pull it together.

  3. Toronto, you have to get out of this resurgence of COVID-19. Here's an entire appendix of advice on what Dr.Eileen de Villa can achieve using her own Toronto Public Health dashboard, even as the province grapples with the facts.

  4. For both the remainder of the pandemic and for the rebuilding of your community, Toronto needs a separate and robust strategy for Black and Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) — and it starts with populating City agencies, boards and commissions with BIPOC citizen members.

  5. You are going to have to take a hard look at your budget. You’ll need to find savings, not so Council can boast about keeping taxes low, but because your health system needs those dollars to get through this pandemic. Ultimately, what you really need are more appropriate streams of non-property tax revenue.

  6. You are kind of bad at community engagement, especially where BIPOC are concerned. Proper and meaningful engagement is something you have to actively invest in if you truly want to “Build Back Better.”

Now, this is an extreme distillation of the many thoughts of authors Dr. David Mowat and Mr. Saad Rafi, but it gets their key points across. If you've been a reader of this e-blast for a while, you'll know I'm in strong agreement with these recommendations — in fact, I've written about every one of these points before. If my colleagues on Council take these recommendations seriously and heed the advice of TORR, I believe our City can emerge from this pandemic as a more resilient and better city for everyone from all walks of life. I urge you to read the report and decide for yourself whether you agree. But before we start looking to the end of the tunnel, we have to make it through this resurgence, first. I know the advice we've received from the provincial government has been unclear, so just remember these golden rules:

  • Maintain your distance from others (at least 6 feet) and avoid crowds

  • Wear a mask when distancing is difficult and in indoor public spaces

  • Wash your hands frequently and do not touch your face.



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