COVID-19 Community Update (May 29)

Dear Neighbours,

As we move into another month of pandemic, almost everyone I speak with is puzzling over when they might resume some version of normal and what they should be doing to stay safe until then.

Is it now safer now to go out? When should I wear a mask and where do I get one? Should business be starting up again? Who is most at risk?

The answers to these questions can change daily as we learn more and move through various stages of the pandemic. Below is my attempt at a summary, based on information from public health officials. The commentary is mine, but we are providing a large number of links for those who want to go directly to the source.

What stage are we at in this pandemic? When Public Health first asked us to stay home and observe physical distancing, the primary objective was to “flatten the curve”, so that an exponential increase in cases didn’t overwhelm the health care system, as it did in places like Italy and New York City. Thanks to a very high degree of public co-operation, we appear to have achieved that. But that was only the first part of the journey.

Towards the beginning, each new case in Toronto was infecting three others; that number is now 1.1. But that just means that we are leveling off at a high number of new cases each day. To get the situation under control, we need to get that number well below one. And that means we all need to continue physical distancing, in combination with much better testing and contact tracing.

Who is getting COVID-19? The answer has been shifting. Initially, it was almost entirely people who had travelled from places where the virus was present or those in contact with those travellers. Because it was not contained early, the virus then spread into the general population and found its way into long-term care homes, where a tragedy unfolded. As more attention focused on getting that horrible situation under control, many new cases have emerged among those for whom it is difficult to observe physical distancing in their daily lives: people who can’t stay home or work from home, for example, or those living in more crowded situations where the virus is more easily spread within households.

Earlier this week, Toronto Public Health released a map grouping those who’ve had the virus by neighbourhood, based on where they live. I’m providing the link because it is public information but I want to caution against incorrect conclusions that could be based on how the data is presented. If you are using the map, be aware of the following: the map shows where those who’ve had the virus live, not where they caught it; it shows totals since the beginning of the pandemic and therefore may not entirely reflect present day conditions; most importantly, it groups congregate settings such as long-term care homes and shelters in with neighbourhood numbers, providing a highly distorted picture.

Perhaps the best conclusion we should take from this is that anyone anywhere can get the virus, and those of us who are able to stay home or observe physical distancing should continue to do so as much as possible.

What’s the latest on masks? Public Health officials are now recommending that we wear non-medical face masks any time we expect to be within two metres of someone who is not part of our household. Although this may provide some protection to the person wearing the mask, masks are far more effective at reducing the likelihood that we could spread the virus. Because those who get the virus may be contagious for several days before they show symptoms, and some may never show symptoms, wearing masks is now considered an important way that we can all protect one another.

For information on procedures to follow when wearing a mask, click here.

For information on how to make your own mask, click here.

SewforTO, a Willowdale based group of volunteers, has put together a small list of places they recommend to purchase masks. Unfortunately, there are none in Willowdale we know of but if you know local places to purchase high quality disposable or cloth masks please let us know. To see the SewforTO list, click here.

Who should get tested? People who have symptoms and those who believe they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should be tested. For more detail on on when to get tested see the public health section further down in this email.

For Willowdale residents, the closest test sites are:

North York General Hospital – Branson Site Address: 555 Finch Ave. W. (North Entrance, immediately off Finch) Hours: 7 days/week; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Age Restrictions: None For more information, visit the North York General Hospital website

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre Address: 2075 Bayview Ave. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre – U Ground level Hours:

  1. Monday to Friday, 12 to 7:30 p.m.

  2. Saturday and Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m.

Age Restrictions: No children under the age of 16 For more information, visit the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre COVID-19 website

For more information, please go to the Toronto Public Health website.

Should personal and business restrictions be loosened up faster? We all want some version of our normal lives back. Public Health officials have developed guidelines on when that should occur. But the Province moved us into Stage 1 without meeting its own criteria around a 2-4 week steady decline in cases and sufficient testing and contact tracing. A few weeks later, cases started to edge up again, perhaps either because things opened up too soon and/or residents took the wrong message from that and began relaxing their personal behavior too soon.

Many Public Health officials, especially those representing more urban areas where the virus is more prevalent, are concerned that a further opening up could result in an uptick in cases that would nullify the sacrifices made over the past three months.

A possible solution, which the Premier mused about today, would be a “regional approach”: relax restrictions in parts of the province where the criteria is met but maintain restrictions in such areas as Toronto where it has not been.

Health experts agree that we are still in the early stages of a pandemic that will likely last at least until a vaccine has been developed, tested, manufactured and distributed in the population. Estimates on when that might occur vary, but even the most optimistic scenario is early 2021.

Today’s music video comes from CBC music, which polled Canadians on what song would best bring Canada together. Hundreds of Canadians then joined together in isolation to sing along with the winning selection – Blue Rodeo’s “Lost Together.”  See if you can spot our own Markus O’Brien-Fehr who was one of the many participants. To listen to Blue Rodeo’s original version, click here. For a CBC interview with Jim Cuddy on what “Lost Together” means to Canadians today, click here.

— John