Ford wants people in COVID-19 hotspots to get tested, but province won’t say where they are

Premier Doug Ford is pleading with people who live in Ontario’s COVID-19 “hotspots” to go get tested for the virus — but officials won’t specify exactly which neighbourhoods have been hardest hit.

Ford mentioned the province’s novel coronavirus hotspots multiple times during his daily news conference Monday. He said the government is able to measure them by postal code, and some areas are “lighting up like a Christmas tree.

“We want to encourage people in the hot spots … please get tested,” Ford said.

But that data has not been made public. CBC News has requested a breakdown of cases by postal code, but provincial spokesperson Hayley Chazan would only say that Ontario’s hardest hit regions are in Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex.

Ford elaborated slightly Monday afternoon, saying “parts” of those regions were most affected. He also mentioned parts of Brampton, north Etobicoke and Scarborough.

According to the latest data from the province, GTA public health units account for 64.8 per cent of Ontario’s cases.

“We’re going to get people out where the hot spots are and get them tested,” Ford said, though he did not elaborate on exactly how that would happen.

Ford did say the province plans to launch “the next steps of our robust testing strategy” in the coming days. The first steps of that plan began this weekend, he said, with testing of hospital workers — symptomatic or not — as well as inmates and staff in correctional facilities.

“I want as many people tested as possible,” he said.

Of late, that hasn’t been happening. Ontario has routinely been missing its testing target in recent days, with just 8,170 tests processed since the province’s last update.

That’s far below the benchmark of 16,000 per day and nowhere near the almost 20,000 tests Ontario has the capacity to handle on any given day. The backlog of tests waiting to be processed is sitting at 3,883.

Ford, who has repeatedly stated he wants to see more testing, said Monday the province’s plan “will take time to fully ramp up.”

Avoiding stigma

Dr. David Fisman, professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, spoke about the issue of the province’s hotspots on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Monday.

“I think we know more than what is being discussed publicly about where the hotspots are, particularly within the GTA,” said Fisman, who is also a physician at Michael Garron Hospital.

“I think there are some very important discussions happening internally in public health agencies about stigma. Because this happens again and again with infectious diseases — where you draw a circle around a place that has higher rates of infection, and all of a sudden folks say ‘that’s where the infectious people are,'” he said.

“I think there’s a great desire not to create that kind of dialogue or that kind of rhetoric in Toronto.”

Nurses with the William Osler Health System perform COVID-19 testing at a drive-in centre near Etobicoke General Hospital. Ontario has routinely missed its testing targets in recent days. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Fisman also said that health units in particularly affected areas need help to snuff out the virus. That would include support for people in dense areas who might have trouble physically distancing, protective equipment for front-line workers, and mobile testing for people who have difficulties getting to a testing centre.

“I don’t think this is about enforcement or further stigmatization,” he said.

“I think this is about supporting vulnerable parts of the GTA so that we can get this done.”


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