Toronto Mayor John Tory says discarding used rubber gloves and face masks on the ground is not only “bone-headed” but “risky” and he reminded residents Tuesday that littering in the city can result in a $500 fine.
Tory told reporters at a daily COVID-19 briefing by city officials that his office and the city’s 311 line have received several complaints about the littering of personal protective equipment outside hospitals and grocery stores.
Tory said he finds it hard to believe that people who are protecting themselves from the virus by wearing gloves and masks are the same people who are discarding these used items on the ground.
That action puts others at potential risk and the littering is “frustrating,” he added.
“While it seems like a small matter, it carries with it potentially a big risk. It’s the wrong thing to do. It is bone-headed conduct, and quite frankly, littering, even if you leave aside the health-care aspects of this. It is a risky behaviour,” Tory said.
“We’re asking people to stop it and we’re asking people to use the receptacles outside of hospitals and outside of food stores to look after these kind of things.”
Tory said anyone who dumps gloves and masks on the ground would “richly” deserve the littering fine.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health, said it is possible that the gloves and masks could pass on “disease agents” to other people if they picked the items up.
“It will be depend on whether there is, in fact, viable virus on any of those items — if you pick them up, actually acquire virus on your hands, and then get that virus into your system, either through your eyes, your nose and your mouth.”
De Villa said there are a “lot of steps” involved.
She said the bottom line is there is no need to dump them on the ground. “Discard of your personal protective equipment appropriately so it doesn’t put anybody at risk,” she urged residents.
Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine, said the chance of discarded gloves and masks being infected with COVID-19 is extremely low, but it is still a possibility.
Even if the gloves and masks are not contaminated, she said seeing them discarded on the ground can be stressful, especially because tensions are currently running high in the city.
Banerji said the sight of them can create fear, and if a toddler were to pick them up and suck on them, that would be extremely distressing to a parent.
William Hollingsworth, a Scarborough resident, posted a photo of piles of gloves and masks beside dumpsters used by a grocery store on Lawrence Avenue East. The items were likely collected from its parking lot, he said.
Whoever collected them took the time to separate the gloves by colour and to gather the masks in one pile, he added.
“When seen in a pile, it might make people realize that it’s not just a few here and there,” he wrote on Facebook.
“I think this really needs to be addressed,” he told CBC Toronto.
‘Don’t litter,’ Ontario premier says
For his part, Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters at his daily COVID-19 briefing that discarding gloves and masks on the ground is inappropriate behaviour.
“I encourage everyone, number one, don’t litter. We live in a beautiful country, a beautiful province. It’s as simple as that. Don’t litter. It doesn’t matter if it’s candy wrapper or whatever,” Ford said on Tuesday.
“Wait until you get into an area where you can dispose of it. If you dispose of gloves or masks, again, you could contaminate so many different areas and people and the ground. Throw it in a waste basket.”