The City of Toronto will now publicly identify the location of some COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces as it seeks to improve transparency amid a surge in infections.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa announced the change on Monday afternoon, as she reported an additional 974 new cases of COVID-19 in the city over the last 24 hours.
She said that starting today Toronto Public Health will release the location of workplace outbreaks on a weekly basis in circumstances where there is “sustained transmission” and “the workplace is large enough that the risk of privacy concerns are mitigated.”
She said that Toronto Public Health will also be providing more detailed information about the sectors where outbreaks are being reported.
Previously Toronto Public Health grouped all workplaces together but going forward it will put them into 11 different categories, including grocery stores, pharmacies, food processing sites, warehousing, shipping and distribution, construction and manufacturing.
There are currently 28 active outbreaks in Toronto workplaces.
“I believe this kind of transparency and public accountability will help encourage employers to do everything they can to protect their workers and it will help give everyone a better indication of where the COVID-19 virus is spreading in our community,” she said in making the announcement.
Toronto’s Board of Health first asked de Villa to consider positing the location of workplace outbreaks back in September.
At the time she said that she would explore the idea but she also spoke of a need to ensure that the privacy of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 is protected.
That meant that it was left up to individual employers to report outbreaks and some either never came to light publicly or were only confirmed after the fact, such as one at a industrial bakery with 180 cases in the spring.
Speaking with reporters on Monday, de Villa said that releasing more information about the location of workplace outbreaks where appropriate is “the right thing to do” but she said Torontonians shouldn’t forget that COVID-19 is spreading everywhere right now.
“Whatever the specific figures at this point in the pandemic COVID-19 infection can be acquired anywhere and should be thought about as such,” she said. “In Toronto more than half of infections are resulting from close contact with a confirmed cases. If COVID-19 gets into your home it is very likely it will spread through our home so the best thing we can do is to act to prevent it from getting there in the first place.”
In addition to the new reporting rules around outbreaks, Toronto Public Health is also releasing a series of new recommendations for essential workplaces that are continuing to operate amid the provincewide lockdown.
Those recommendations are as follows:
That businesses immediately notify Toronto Public Health when they become aware of two or more employees with COVID-19 and designate a contact to work in coordination with Toronto Public Health in implementing any measures required to reduce the spread of the viru
That employers minimize instances where more than one individual is travelling in a vehicle associated with the work of that business
That businesses implement rigorous and frequent cleaning in all high-touch areas
That businesses ensure regular assessments of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems
That businesses ensure the physical distancing of employees by at least two metres where reasonably possible