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

There’s always time for politics for Hussen

Ahmed Hussen, our MP and Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development, said that Service Canada is stopping in-person service “so that we can redeploy our focus to online and telephone services to better serve Canadians.”

That is not what the Globe and Mail says. The service centres are closed because “employees en masse refused to work”.

The Globe says

The government bent to pressure Thursday evening from the Canadian Employment and Immigration Union….The centres were crowded and efforts to control the traffic resulted in long lines outside and sometimes irate visitors, she said. In recent days, so many missed work that 187 centres closed on Thursday – almost 60 per cent of the network.

This is politics, but it isn’t just politics. The CDC says that in an emergency, government should “Be First, Be Right, Be Credible”.

Hussen just burned a little bit of credibility in a time when the needs it most.

 

 

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.

Judicial review to go ahead.

A piece of good news has emerged from the life that was going on before COVID 19 hit.

As a reminder, in 2018, St Helen’s Meat Packers somehow managed to buy an 8-acre parcel of contaminated flood-plain land from the city after the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, normally fiercely protective of flood plain land, gave permission for its sale and use as a meat packing plant.

TRCA says that the land doesn’t help protect adjacent locations from flooding. Community consultation meetings became raucous affairs with St Helen’s employees ‘packing’ the meeting in matching t-shirts.

The cost for 8 acres of land in our fair city? $3.19 million.

Incidentally, Robert Bielak, president of St Helens is a Ford family friend and his wife donated (legally) to Ward 5 Councillor Frances Nunziata’s 2018 election campaign.

The site borders Rockcliffe Boulevard, a street where homes are flooded in severe rain events. The last hope for residents to stop the plant’s construction is a judicial review in which a judge will check to see if all protocols have been followed. Reviews are expensive but the $25,000 cost has been raised through a combination of public fundraising and private donors. Landscape architect Devin Tepleski organized the successful fundraiser. Incidentally, and in keeping with the councillor’s style of appearing to support both sides; one of  the donors to the fundraiser was none other than Frances Nunziata.

Frances Nunziata protesting in an Acorn march in October 2018. From CTV.

Read more here, here and here.

Floodplain fundraiser almost there

Thanks to a private donor, the gofundme fundraiser to launch a judicial review of the floodplain lands purchased by St Helen’s Meatpackers and approved by the TRCA has received a boost thanks to a donation of legal services. St Helens intends to build on the land in the face of common sense and community opposition.

The floodplain land opposite Rockcliffe Court. File.

According to team fundraiser, Devin Tepleski, the fundraising target is less than $2500 and the deadline is March 23.

From the fundraiser webpage:

“Since the TRCA decision, two men nearly drowned footsteps away from the creek, and homes in the area  flooded twice in one year.  How can the TRCA  claim to have a mandate to protect communities from flooding and at the same time allow easement on to city land so it can be sold to a meat packing plant?  This is same land they TRCA recommended be used to mitigate flooding in one of their own Environmental Assessments (2014).”

To donate click here.

Report on Mount Dennis Eco Group meeting.

Megan DeLaire at Toronto.com has written a report on the recent meeting of the Mount Dennis Eco-Neighbourhood group. Mount Dennis through their community association has spearheaded a drive to make Weston’s southern neighbour into a net-zero community.

What is a net-zero community? The term isn’t clearly defined but in general, it’s a place where total carbon emissions are reduced to zero through conservation, by changing energy sources and by generating a surplus of non-carbon based energy that is used to offset carbon emissions. It’s a laudable goal and a determined group at MDCA has been pushing it for several years with considerable success. The gas-powered generating station that was to supply the Eglinton Crosstown with emergency power was nixed in favour of a large battery. This was thanks to concerns expressed by the MDCA and others that not only would the generator pollute the neighbourhood, it would also be used during times of peak demand, adding to local pollution levels..

It’s refreshing that all three local politicians seem to be behind this endeavour, MP Ahmed Hussein sent greetings by video message, MPP Faisal Hassan is strongly supportive and local councillor Frances Nunziata spoke to the audience. Nunziata seems open to supporting net zero in new buildings which is a good thing. This will be more expensive up front but the cost savings and lower pollution levels will last for the lifetime of a building. Check out this building in London Ontario.

From CBC.ca.

Read Megan’s report here.

Eglinton West LRT options outlined and critiqued.

Option 4; the mostly underground continuation of the Eglinton Crosstown Line. From Metrolinx Business  planning document. Click to enlarge.

The Eglinton Crosstown LRT (soon to be known as Line 5) will begin (or end) at Mount Dennis using the refurbished Kodak recreation building as a station. Readers may remember that the building was temporarily relocated while a new foundation and lower floor were constructed. Much discussion has taken place about connecting Line 5 westward to Pearson Airport and how that would happen. The MPP for Etobicoke Centre, Kinga Surma believes that tunnelling would be the way to go.

Kodak Building 9 in 2012. File. Click to enlarge.

Metrolinx has released a business case study into four options for completing the link from Mount Dennis to Pearson and has outlined them in this report. The gist seems to be that there’s a weak case in terms of return on investment but that some options are better than others. Incidentally all options seem to be better than the business case for the Scarborough Subway!

Steve Munro is a Toronto blogger who knows more about transit than just about anyone in the city. He has examined the Metrolinx report and has commented on each of the options. Read that here.

Whatever happens, it will probably be another 10 years (and a couple of changes of government) before this project gets under way.