Pelmo is sick with COVID

The Pelmo Park–Humberlea neighbourhood, part of which is in the area most people would call Weston, has the highest rate of new community-spread COVID cases in the city.

Pelmo Park–Humberlea includes the Pelmo neighbourhood south of the 401, as well as an area to the north of the 401 and  west of the 400.Map of Pelmo Park

Pelmo Park–Humberlea has had 17 new “sporadic” cases in the past 21 days, out of a population of about 10,000. That gives it an infection rate of 159 per 100,000 people, by far the highest in the city—the average rate is 28. (“Sporadic” cases occur outside a healthcare facility).

On the one hand, this may be a statistical blip: 17 cases isn’t a huge number. On the other hand, it is the highest rate in the city in the statistic I think we should care most about: new cases of community spread.

COVID continues to be a problem in the northwest part of the city. In Weston proper, we have had 13 new cases in the past 21 days, and we rank a dismal 9th-worst for new infection rates.

By contrast, more than 10% of the city’s neighbourhoods have had no new cases at all.

Including outbreaks in healthcare facilities makes the picture even darker. Humber Heights (just across the river), Weston, and Mount Dennis have been three of the four worst-hit neighbourhoods in Toronto.

Frances Nunziata says she prompted Joe Cressy, the Chair of Toronto Public Health, to write a letter to the Ontario Minister of Health and the Chief Medical Officer. The letter explains Cressy’s hypotheses around why COVID has been so prevalent here: race, income, reduced access to health services, and household crowding.

He calls on the province to provide:

  • Increased testing, including mobile testing
  • Accommodation for people needing to isolate
  • Increased data collection
  • Improved protections for workers
  • Faster test results

 

 

 

 

Long Term Care Homes

A few years ago my father-in-law was a resident in a local, well known long-term care home. This was when homes were better funded and unlike today (thank you Mike Harris), the home was non-profit. He was recovering from a series of minor strokes, had Parkinson’s disease, was incontinent and while he could walk around, had been reduced to a child-like state.

My elderly and disabled mother-in-law visited him daily and it was soon obvious that there was a disquieting and sinister undercurrent running through the place. Many of the residents were physically disabled – victims of strokes or accidents and they and their relatives lived in fear of retaliation by staff if they spoke out about conditions in the home. My MIL discovered that at mealtimes, residents would be served and the meal would often be untouched after 30 minutes when it would be removed. Like several others, she ended up hiring an attendant to feed her husband so that he wouldn’t die of starvation.

At the home, staff had somehow persuaded management that uniforms were authoritarian and intimidating, so they wandered around indistinguishable from visitors. Residents would be left in soiled diapers for hours and changed grudgingly as if it was a great favour. Many residents were tied to their chairs so they wouldn’t be a nuisance between mealtimes. I was drafted to write letters, put on a suit and do battle with management (several times) and things slowly improved for my FIL. Sadly, few others had relatives who could or would do this. In those days, the only alternative, home care, was even less adequate than it is today.

Fast forward to the pandemic of 2020 and behold the sight of Premier Ford blinking  with emotion and surprise that the Canadian Armed Forces had reported squalid conditions and seemingly criminal neglect in the care homes where they had been assigned.

Long Term Care Minister Dr. Merrilee Fullerton seems equally bemused but that’s better than admitting that the reason might be that the Ford government reduced funding and inspections (an average home can now expect a full inspection once every 100 years). Add to that years of neglect by governments of all parties and long term care residents were sitting targets. Upwards of 80% of Ontario Covid-19 deaths have been in care homes. The highest rates have been in homes that were for profit. This was largely due to a lack of direction from Minister Fullerton and the systemic exploitation of low-paid agency workers, forced  to work in several locations in order to make a living.

Health Minister (and former Long Term Health Care Minister) Christine Elliott claims to know nothing about long term care home conditions but she may have a short memory.

The Feds no doubt are secretly pleased that the Army embarrassed Ford but they’ve got skin in the game.

There’s no shortage of blame to go round. Read about the Armed Forces report here and the actual document here.

Ford will resist holding an inquiry or changing the legislation. He’ll hope that the heat will die down and the public will be satisfied with a few dramatic band-aid gestures.

That won’t cut it.

If we’re stuck with private companies running long term care homes for a profit, there should be strong legislation to safeguard residents including standards of care, staffing levels, supervisory community involvement and rigorous, frequent, meaningful inspections.

Let’s see if Premier Ford’s tears are real or theatrical.

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