Toronto is currently in a “vaccine valley” with dwindling supply but significant capacity, said Mayor John Tory.
“We are sending all the vaccine we can to the hottest hot spots,” said Tory at a news conference Monday.
Despite a lower than expected amount of vaccine due to supply chain issues, the city has allocated 59 per cent of its 107,640 doses this week to mobile and pop-up clinics in hot spot neighbourhoods, said Matthew Pegg, the city’s fire chief and head of emergency management.
Next week, Toronto is expecting more than 270,000 doses and will send 73 per cent to hot spots.
This is in line with what Ontario’s COVID-19 science table recommended on Friday that the province shift its vaccine strategy to allocate doses based on hot spots, rather than age. The independent panel of experts said this approach would “substantially reduce” infection rates.
“Prioritizing those hot spot neighbourhoods can be seen to have the greatest impact in terms of reduced hospitalizations and deaths,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa. “That is certainly something we can all get behind.”
The province has been slower to implement the science table’s advice. Health Minister Christine Elliott told reporters Monday that she takes the recommendation seriously and a decision will be made soon.
The number of new COVID-19 cases appears to be dropping slightly in Toronto to 1,101 cases Monday compared to almost 1,300 a week ago, according to the city.
But daily cases over 1,000 are always something to be concerned about, said de Villa.
“At this point in the pandemic, given the extent and the ease of transmission everywhere, I am reluctant to characterize case counts as plateauing,” she said.
As of Monday, there were 1,085 people in hospital with COVID-19. Intensive care units are at 91 per cent capacity with 231 patients being treated and 154 on ventilators — though many local patients are now being transported out of the city for care.
Toronto has also experienced 3,023 deaths from COVID-19.
The city’s hospitals will get extra support in the coming days. Ontario has formally requested the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces to help deal with the surge in critical care cases. Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, is sending nine health-care workers to help in downtown Toronto hospitals on Tuesday.
To stop the spread of COVID-19 from workers to their families, Toronto Public Health has ordering the partial closure of eight workplaces and full closure of four workplaces where there are COVID-19 outbreaks, said de Villa.
The city will post the names of the companies later today, as it continues to urge the province to provide paid sick days, although Tory said he had not heard any details from the province about possible forthcoming legislation.
Tory also announced that the city is investing $2 million to strengthen mental health support for residents, especially those in hot spot neighbourhoods. The support will be virtual and completely free for residents experiencing grief, anxiety and depression linked to the pandemic.
More vaccine appointments open
More than one million vaccine doses have been administered in Toronto, about one in three adults, but residents in hot spot neighbourhoods are frustrated by shortages at pop-up clinics. Some have waited in line for hours only to be turned away when supply runs out.
But even if residents are stuck waiting in long lines for a dose, pop-up clinics remain the best way to boost vaccination rates in hard-hit communities according to health-care providersn and community organizers, Pegg said. This approach meets the needs of people who may not be comfortable booking an appointment online or over the phone.
A new block of COVID-19 vaccine appointments have opened up at the nine city-run clinics. Spots are available for between May 10 to 16, when Toronto expects to start receiving an increased number of doses, according to Toronto Public Health.
Residents 60 years and older are eligible to book an appointment at a city clinic, as well as those 50 and up living in hot spots and individuals who are pregnant. The city is looking at lowering age eligibility as supplies increase, said Pegg.
People 18 years and older living in hot spots can get vaccinated at mobile and pop-up clinics, while those 40 and older are eligible to receive a dose of AstraZeneca at pharmacies.
Toronto police lay 160 charges
For some Toronto residents, the parties didn’t stop this weekend, police said Monday.
Toronto police responded to hundreds of calls from the public and attended more than 200 noisy gatherings — more than half indoors, the force said in a statement.
Officers laid 160 charges under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and eight criminal charges, including obstructing a police officer and assault.
The most calls came from the downtown area on Saturday, with police teams visiting houses, apartments, short-term rentals and businesses, police said. One call was near King St. W. and Portland, where the owner and 10 guests were inside a condo.
“At a time when positive case counts continue to rise to worrying numbers and hospital ICU admissions are at their highest, it’s extremely disappointing to see people having parties and gatherings and putting themselves, their families, healthcare workers and first responders at increased risk,” said Chief James Ramer.