Local hospital ahead of the curve.

Humber River Hospital (CNW Group/Humber River Hospital) From Wikipedia.

If you saw this pandemic coming in January or even February, you’re not alone. Many Canadians watched in dismay while various politicians and their medical officers of health basically twiddled around. We were also told that face masks were ineffective but that’s another story.

There’s a Toronto company called Blue Dot and they analyze masses of data using artificial intelligence. Blue Dot was able to predict the spread of Zika along with other diseases using huge amounts of data that is mostly publicly available. They analyze this data and present conclusions to clients who can then plan accordingly. Blue Dot saw the Covid-19 pandemic coming as early as December and knew where and how it would spread from Wuhan long before any of our local experts or politicians did. The CBS show 60 Minutes covered Humber River Hospital’s use of Blue Dot’s services and it’s quite impressive to see what the application of artificial intelligence can do during a pandemic.

Let’s hope that some intelligent thinking and data usage will be used to guide lifting of the lockdown so that Canada can successfully emerge from its current medically induced coma.

Action needed on care homes.

Locally, residents at local retirement / long-term care homes at Humber Heights and West Park are enduring severe outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many other care homes are battling outbreaks throughout the province. Half of Ontario’s (291 as of April 14) COVID-19 death toll has been from care-home residents. As of last Friday, 99 of Ontario’s 629 care homes were reporting infections.

29 residents have died in a 65-bed nursing home in Bobcaygeon . The Ontario Health Ministry has secured help for the home from private company Extendicare; curiously the same people who run West Park’s Long Term Care Centre, currently undergoing its own COVID-19 outbreak. In fact the CBC has the story of a resident at West Park Long Term Care who says that the place is grossly understaffed and residents are being neglected. The resident, fearing retaliation from staff asked to remain anonymous.

Some care home staff have been staying home, fearful of being infected or infecting family members because of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Astonishingly, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams waited until last week before requiring workers to wear masks in care homes. Personal care staff are often required to work in more than one location to make ends meet (full time work is often denied to them so that care homes and agencies can avoid paying benefits).

Premier Ford’s mother-in-law is a long-term care resident at West Park and the premier says it breaks his heart to see his wife Carla helplessly standing outside her mother’s window in tears. While Ford says that it’s ‘very very difficult’ for hundreds of thousands of families right now, there doesn’t seem to be a lot being done. “We’re doing everything we can.“, is often all that he can muster, a comment echoed by health minister Christine Elliott.

Sorry Premier, Minister Elliott, Dr. Williams, that’s not good enough.

While many of these homes are privately run facilities, they are largely taxpayer funded and subsidized. Many years of underfunding by Liberals and (now) Conservatives is a big part of the problem.

Since half of Ontario’s COVID-19 deaths are occurring in care homes, here are some urgent questions on the following:

  • How will you stop the further spread of COVID-19 in care homes?
  • What measures are you taking to ensure adequate PPE is getting to these facilities?
  • How are you ensuring that there are adequate staff levels?
  • Will you end staff being forced to work part-time at several care homes in order to make a living (currently it’s only a recommendation from MOH Dr. Williams)?
  • Will funding be increased to support long term care homes now and in the future?
  • Will you authorize an immediate, substantial pay rise for front-line health care workers?
  • Will you test every resident and worker in long term care homes?

Until these points are addressed Premier, you’re not doing everything you can.

Update 1: Premier Ford announced today that as of midnight on Tuesday April 14, care workers will be banned from working at more than one establishment. The province will top up any lost wages.

Update 2: It turns out that Mr Ford is only applying this measure for two weeks. Is there an emoji for ‘facepalm’?

Update 3: After reading the fine print, the unsettling news is that this brief measure doesn’t apply to agency workers. Read the depressing details here.

Thoughts from the lockdown.

As we endure this lockdown, it’s important to think about the people who are still working and keeping things running. Thoughts must especially go to people working in health care and to others on the front lines who have to deal with the public. Thank you for your service. We should also think about the people whose jobs and businesses have been savaged by the virus and who will not be ‘made whole’ by the government. Lastly, the people forced to live in close proximity such as those in long-term care homes. They are in a precarious position thanks to the false economy of staffing through agencies.

Some good things:

Doug Ford – Since his attack on Pusateri’s, he’s becoming seen as everybody’s premier.

Thank you to Councillor Frances Nunziata, MPP Faisal Hassan and MP Ahmed Hussen for keeping us informed via your newsletters.

Air and noise pollution is down because of reduced road and air traffic along with industrial manufacturing. Vehicle collisions and related deaths and injuries may be down.

The sounds of nature are more evident.

If you are no longer driving to work, your insurance company may give you a break.

Crime may be down.

Money will be flowing to most people who need it. 

Civil order has been maintained and people are respecting stay at home and physical distancing orders.

Some bad things:

People are very ill and dying. Families are suffering. Many provinces including Ontario were unprepared despite advanced warning.

There is a severe shortage of the equipment needed to protect health care professionals. This video shows nurses in China preparing to face COVID-19 patients and the astonishing amount of protection required to keep them safe. Ontario is still scrambling to obtain adequate stockpiles of this equipment. By contrast, Alberta began buying PPE in December when they correctly anticipated the pandemic’s arrival in Canada. Where was Ontario’s Ministry of Health at this time? It’s no secret that during a pandemic, huge amounts of PPE and ventilators are needed.


There are too many public health voices across Canada. We need a nation-wide COVID-19 response. This would coordinate the actions, policies and purchasing from all areas of the country.

We applied little from our 2003 SARS experience in Toronto. Pandemic planning was inadequate and interventions ineffective because they were too late. We didn’t have testing at airports to identify those bringing the virus into the country along with early enough mandatory quarantines for all. Police have only recently started charging physical distancing violators.

People in charge of containment don’t seem to be up to the job. It’s great having health departments but one gets a strong impression of unpreparedness and playing catch-up. Take for example the mask debacle. We were first told that masks were ineffective and now apparently they ‘may’ work to prevent an infected person from spreading the virus. Perhaps scarves can be re-purposed. We’re still not testing enough nor are we tracking the spread of the virus intelligently. The other day, Ford was demanding that the province test more people. Perhaps he should have a word with the premier or the health minister.

Nursing and long-term care homes are sitting targets and their under-funding has cost many lives. Many of these institutions obtain support staff from agencies who save money by deliberately not providing full-time employment. Many agency staff are paid low wages, zero benefits and may be required to work in several institutions. This and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) have ensured that infections in care homes have spread rapidly. British Columbia stopped this practice weeks ago. Meanwhile, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott is still pondering whether to do the same.

People who are on the front lines need more help and material support.

Local businesses are hurting.  We should be supporting our local businesses so that they are around once this thing is over.

Some interesting things:

This is an Easter to remember and people will be writing about this pandemic for years.

COVID-19 and its effects will last for a long time; experts predict that there will be further waves of the virus.

From CityNews.

It’s interesting that Ford is being a lot more honest with the people. Let’s hope that he is capable of learning from this pandemic and understanding that good government funding is vital when preparing for times like these. He should end the self-publicizing photo-ops of him carting boxes of masks. We have people for that and besides; it’s disingenuous to make political capital out of a tragedy you could have done much more to prevent.

We should copy what they do in Taiwan where the infection has been controlled with superb coordination and a lot less financial disruption. Taiwan has demonstrated that it is vital to set up an intelligent approach to tracking contacts of people with the disease and ensuring compliance with quarantine orders. Sadly, Taiwan is unrecognized by the World Health Organization for political reasons.

I occasionally go for walks around our neighbourhood in Greater Weston™  and it boggles the mind to know that in spite of the quiet streets, most people are home.

Cruise lines may never recover. Norwalk and other infections were always an issue on cruise ships as one’s fellow passengers could not be relied on to wash their hands to protect others. Experience has shown that while this virus is loose, cruise ships can not provide a safe experience either for passengers or the people in the ports they visit. Cruise lines are unlikely to get a large bail-out either since they are registered elsewhere.

Surgical type face-masks may become a common sight in flu season long after COVID-19 has gone. People in Asia know that face-masks work to stem flu-like diseases. At the beginning of the outbreak we were told not to bother. Now, the same people are saying they may be effective to stop an infected person from spreading the disease. At this rate they’ll soon be mandatory.

Stay tuned.

Update: Global news is reporting a massive COVID-19 outbreak at Humber Heights Retirement Home on Lawrence Avenue and Scarlett Road. Seven residents are dead and twenty-three residents along with fourteen staff are infected.  Read more here.

Where are we going with all this?

It’s really hard to report on local news when there isn’t much of it happening. Instead, here’s some further idle speculation on our current situation.

Social Distancing:
Apparently it works. Even the most intellectually challenged are learning this important lesson.

Social (or physical) distancing keeps infections to a low level so that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed. When hospitals are swamped with patients, deaths increase considerably. We seem to be distancing quite well in our community (Lions Park soccer field excepted)

Most parts of the country also seem to be following the new rules. How effective are they? It depends on the degree of cooperation. According to the University of Sydney (Australia), 80% compliance seems to be the threshold at which new infections fall.

From Sydney Morning Herald (click to enlarge).

The shaded area represents a 91-day period of social distancing. According to the chart, infections will soar once the restrictions are lifted. Is there a better way to get through COVID-19 than by simply closing the country down?  Yes. Unlike Western countries, Taiwan leaned from the 2003 SARS epidemic and acted quickly once COVID-19 arrived. They started containment efforts in December 2019.

In this video, Taiwan’s approach is compared to that of Italy. Our own approach to the virus is more like Italy’s than Taiwan’s although our population may be younger and less family oriented.


Detecting, tracking and testing are important parts of Taiwan’s strategy.

Here in Toronto we’re still playing catch-up. On March 13th, as part of ongoing treatment I went to a large Toronto hospital. Visitors were allowed and there were no symptom checks or hand sanitizer at the entrance. When I returned on March 26th, visitors were banned and staff were stationed at the now limited entrances to ask patients about symptoms. They didn’t take my temperature. Masks were optional (I wore one).

It seems clear that containment measures are being introduced or tightened too slowly.

Another factor: we’re still in the early stages with stricter measures likely to come. We may end up with lockdown fatigue.  Compliance could then deteriorate until we go below the 80% threshold.

Then what?

If we adopt parts of the Taiwanese and South Korean approaches (it’s not too late), we can slow the spread indefinitely. It will require a level of enforcement and cooperation not seen here in a long time but the prize will be the saving of many more lives and the revival of our economy.

Here’s how South Korea flattened their curve.


Let’s hope our leaders can learn from other countries’ recent experience. Sadly we didn’t learn from our own back in 2003.

“The experience with SARS in Toronto indicates that this disease is entirely driven by exposure to infected individuals. Transmission occurred primarily within health care settings or in circumstances where close contacts occurred. The was spread by respiratory droplets in the great majority of cases, and some patients were more infectious than others. Ultimately, the strict adherence to precautions—and practice implementing them—was critical to the containment of SARS in Toronto and the restoration of safe conditions for hospital staff and patients.”

SARS: Lessons from Toronto Dr Donald E. Low. 2004

Some thoughts on COVID-19

Spanish Flu: Did you know that the Spanish Flu of 1918-19 was so named because at the tail end of World War 1, neutral Spain was the first country to report on the outbreak? The Spanish king was one of the casualties of the first wave of the flu. Censors in combatant countries kept the pandemic secret for morale purposes. It could have been called the American Flu because the virus may have originated on a Kansas farm possibly in March 1918 and was brought to Europe by American troops. After it spread world-wide and died down, the virus mutated to a more deadly version (possibly in a Boston area army camp) and a second pandemic broke out killing millions of people.

Here in Weston / Mount Dennis, life has changed for most of us. Now we are meant to practise ‘Social Distancing’ and keep at least 2m apart. Dr. Isaac Bogoch has pointed out that the term should be ‘Physical Distancing’ – we can and should be as social as we want electronically.

Local Business: If life was tough for local food and retail businesses before, now it’s a heroic struggle. We should be supporting local restaurants, coffee shops and other permitted business using their take-out services. Many will deliver.

The second-biggest employer in the GTA is Pearson Airport and its associated airlines and businesses. They will be reducing staff levels sharply. In spite of the  outbreak, passengers are still arriving at Pearson with tales of minimal temperature and symptom checks which is absolutely bizarre.

Real Estate: Sales are down and listings are up. This may result in a buyers’ market as time goes on. Interest rates have dropped and there may be opportunities to re-mortgage. People who bought homes as rentals or Airbnb investments may need to sell if the pandemic continues and money becomes tight. Tenants will be struggling to pay their rent on time, if at all. Selling homes will be made more difficult as owners and sitting tenants may not wish to have visitors. The Toronto Real Estate Board is recommending that its members stop all open houses and this will further hamper sales. Former MP for York South-Weston Mike Sullivan is selling up and has picked up some helpful publicity in the Star.

Are we handling COVID-19 properly?: Probably not. A friend recently spent several months in Taiwan and returned this week. Taiwan is near China and while the virus arrived there earlier than here, it is under control. Just about everything is functioning normally, schools (after a two-week closure), stores, restaurants, theatres etc. Before being admitted to a business, customers must answer questions about their health, whether they’ve been outside the country recently and their temperature is taken. Parents must check and report their child’s temperature before sending them to school. Face masks and sanitizing gel are in abundant supply and as a result, the country has been minimally affected with much lower levels of medical and financial upheaval. Taiwan learned a lot during the SARS outbreak in 2002-3 but apparently in Canada we learned little from our own experience. Our politicians are reluctant to order people to stay home and back it up with civil and criminal penalties. As a result, we are getting mere suggestions about what to do to contain the virus but the lack of enforcement measures at airports, businesses and public areas will ensure that the virus will continue to spread and as a result many more people will die. Every legal resident of Ontario possesses a health card. If a crackdown is needed, people may be asked to carry theirs at all times and produce it on demand if they break distancing or other health-related requirements.

The public face of COVID-19: Justin Trudeau, Doug Ford, Christine Elliott and Dr. Eileen DeVilla do not inspire confidence with their tepid responses to the pandemic. Trudeau finally realized that his fancy socks were never appropriate after wearing them to his first self-isolation presser. Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen DeVilla apparently wants people to notice her scarf collection while talking to us as if we are in kindergarten. The only straight talker is Dr. Teresa Tam, Canada’s Public Health Officer but she’s hamstrung by the feds’ cautious and dangerous hands-off approach. Doug Ford should stop modelling Donald Trump’s daily self-aggrandizing lectures and use fewer superlatives and clichés. His ‘deer in the headlights’ look indicates that Ontario faces many more lives lost if things aren’t tightened up soon. Let’s not forget that Ford cut funding to public health departments by 30% last year.

Lastly, John Tory has declared a state of emergency in the City of Toronto. This will allow him to act on his own without a council vote.  Look for something dynamic and decisive like lowering fines on overdue library books.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out that the science is not certain on the Kansas origin of Spanish Flu. I have amended the article to reflect this.

COVID-19 contact info:

Toronto Public Health COVID-19 website: toronto.ca/covid-19

Government COVID-19 sites:

City of Toronto

Province of Ontario

Government of Canada

Telehealth Ontario
Call if you develop symptoms.
Telephone: 1-866-797-0000

Toronto Public Health Hotline
8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Call for info on COVID-19.
Phone: 416-338-7600
Email: [email protected]

Links showing world-wide cases of COVID-19:

Johns Hopkins – sometimes a bit delayed but shows each Canadian province individually along with the rest of the world.

Roylab – a Korean site with eerie apocalyptic music with a ‘gong of doom’ whenever new results come in.

What’s open? What’s not?

Much of Weston—and the city—is shutting down to flatten the curve. Here’s a partial list. Please help if you can by leaving a comment below. I’ll update as possible.

Closed or cancelled

  • Weston, Mount Dennis (and all other) library branches
  • York Recreation Centre
  • Shakespeare in Action
  • Mount Dennis’ Climate Action Summit
  • UrbanArts
  • Licensed daycares and schools
  • All city-run March Break camps
  • Frontlines March Break camp, as of Tuesday
  • Goodlife
  • Our MP’s constituency office

Open

  • Weston King Neighbourhood Centre
  • Most small business, including Black Cat, P&M’s, and supercoffee, which are doing a bang-up job.

Black Cat, Weston’s finest café, has an offer for you if you’re having a hard time getting to the store. Justin says that if you can’t make it to the grocery, he can order in baked goods, eggs, and milk for you. Justin, you’re a hell of a guy.

P&M’s is offering to order meat, sauce, and seafood, if you’re in a tight spot.  I love you guys!

 

COVID-19 How are you dealing with it?

The Coronavirus pandemic has certainly captured the attention of the world and its effects are just beginning to unfold. Here in Weston / Mount Dennis, there are no known local cases – Toronto Storeys has published a map that shows the location of every coronavirus case diagnosed in the city. None appear to be close to our neighbourhood and few if any appear to be locally transmitted.

The protocol for those diagnosed seems to be to self-isolate (assuming symptoms are mild enough) to keep the virus from spreading. This requires a bit of planning and perhaps stockpiling supplies to hold out for that long. In our household we are prepared for a two-week isolation should it be necessary plus some consolation junk food.

Readers are invited to share their preparations and thoughts on the current crisis.

There are a couple of sites for a more global picture of the pandemic; the Johns Hopkins tracker is here (it seems to  be having trouble keeping up with demand) and the worldometers one is here.

In Ontario, over 4000 people have been tested and 54 of them were found to be positive for the virus.

Here is the link to Telehealth Ontario if you have symptoms.

Lastly, here is a link to an article published in Medium which every politician in this country should read. It basically says that early and draconian measures are vital in order to save lives.

Live YouTube feed here.