ActiveTO Quiet Streets launch dead on arrival.

Toronto the Careful™ has struck again.

Call me jaded but the plan to open up Toronto’s streets to pedestrians and cyclists seems to be (like most council actions in our fair city) massively underwhelming and certainly in Ward 5 the selection of streets doesn’t seem to address the spirit of the initiative. The idea was to ensure that, “people have space to get around on sidewalks while respecting physical distancing“. 

57 km or a minuscule 1.7% of Toronto’s 3,322 km of neighbourhood streets (excludes expressways, arterial and collector roads) will be temporarily signed and barricaded off to all but local traffic. York South-Weston is giving this treatment to 3.7 kilometres of its streets. Sadly none are in Weston or Mount Dennis.

The Ward 5 closed off streets will be:

StreetFromToLength
Bicknell AveRogers RdEglinton Ave 0.9 km
Silverthorn AveSt. Clair Ave WDonald Ave 

Total of 2.8 km

Donald AveSilverthorn AveHaverson Blvd
Haverson BlvdDonald AveCameron Ave
Blackthorn AveCameron AveEglinton Ave W

Source: Councillor Nunziata’s May 13 COVID Update.

Council felt the need to do something, and something, albeit timid and careful has been done. At least they restrained themselves from calling it a pilot. Additional streets will be considered ‘thereafter’.

The affected streets are shown with red dotted lines. Click to enlarge. Adapted from Google Maps.

According to Councillor Nunziata’s update, the criteria for selection of these streets was, “…several factors including, but not limited to, population density, equity, access to greenspace, car ownership rates, and traffic volumes.“. The councillor’s selection appears to be entirely inside her newly acquired constituency – Frank DiGiorgio’s  former Ward 12 so perhaps this is a little nod to them.

Incidentally, all but one of the selected streets have sidewalks on both sides so it’s hard to imagine crowds of people jostling for space.

Looking south from where Blackthorn Ave and Haverson Blvd meet at Cameron Ave. From Google Maps.

Readers are invited to suggest locations in Weston and Mount Dennis that might be more suitable. We will forward them to the councillor for future consideration.

Update: The city has published their list of ‘Quiet Streets’ and the Ward 5 selections are nowhere to be seen.

More thoughts from the lockdown.

It’s hard to get our heads around this pandemic. Let’s start with the important stuff instead of (note to self) watching the gong of doom all day.

How to avoid catching Covid-19.
Knowledge is power. For starters read this excellent blog post from an epidemiologist, it’s well worth the investment of your time as well as this article by Jonathan Kay that inspired it.

Bottom line: “Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble.”

Wrong advice:
We were first told that face-masks were ineffective. Canadian medical officers of health are still tepid as to their protection value. Despite that, it appears that masks are very effective in containing the spread of Covid. Look at this comparison of jurisdictions and their use of masks along with testing and contact tracing.

from #Masks4all. Click to enlarge.
From #Masks4all.com
Frequent wearing of masks and better masks drives virus transmission towards zero (blue zone). From Researchgate.net.

Despite the evidence, health experts continue to twist themselves into pretzels and argue that their conflicting advice was correct each time.

Long term care homes:
The infection and death rate in profit-making homes is significantly higher than in non-profits  and it’s even lower in civic-run homes.  Legislation from an earlier P.C. government and low funding from Liberals along with decreased inspections has cost lives. Legislated staffing ratios and more frequent inspections are needed for all facilities. This is something that the Ford government doesn’t seem interested in. All Personal Support Workers – even those from agencies – should be paid well with benefits and restricted to one location only. Do we want anything less for the most vulnerable members of our society? (ambiguity intentional)

Paradox:
Isn’t it odd that many of our (now) most important workers were stiffed by Premier Ford when he blocked a minimum wage rise back in 2018. Now he’s offering some of them a temporary (4 month) $4 an hour raise, no doubt until it’s safe to ignore these essential workers once more.

B.S. O-Meter:
We’re hearing a lot more from politicians and health officials these days. The B.S. alarms should go off when any public figure says:

  • …thoughts and prayers…
  • You won’t believe…
  • We’ve made historic investments…
  • Each and every…
  • Let me be clear…
  • We’re gonna be laser focussed…
  • We’ll put an iron ring around our seniors…
  • Don’t go to your cottage to check on the plumbing…
  • …my career
  • Sentences using the first person pronoun (I).
  • No-one likes _____ more than I do…

Things that will never be the same again:

Office work:
Many office-based businesses have discovered that work can carry on from home quite efficiently with the added bonus of employees ponying up the accommodation and utility costs. Will we need as much office space in the future? Probably not. It’s not all sunshine and roses. Some friends work from home and hate the lack of social contact with colleagues along with the intrusion of work tasks into all hours of the day and night. If business can solve these issues, there will be a lot fewer commuters and less need to live in the city.

Spitting athletes:
The act of spitting can carry huge virus loads. If basketball, golf and tennis players can go a whole game without spitting or firing snot rockets, hockey and baseball players, cyclists (and everyone else) can and must.

Handshakes and hugs:
The ancient custom of bowing or the namaste hand clasp is looking better and better. “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you.” – Dr. Anthony Fauci.

From Osho News

Transportation:
TTC ridership is down 80%. Many people are fearful of travelling on any form of transit. Projections are that when numbers recover after the pandemic subsides, they will climb to less than 50% of pre-pandemic levels. This includes airplane and cruise line traffic.

We need more:

Pedestrian and park space:
We need more and it seems that Toronto is cautiously (what else) moving to improve pedestrian space so that people are able to occupy more of the road space since they are now in the majority in many parts of Toronto. How great would it be if Toronto restaurants could occupy patios outside their establishments with a minimum of red tape? Then again we live in Toronto the Careful™.

Cycling expansion:
When Toronto Council right-winger Denzil Minnan-Wong proposed to “…direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to explore the feasibility of implementing new technology including heated pavement to promote year-round cycling., our own Councillor Nunziata voted to defeat the motion. Doncha know there’s a pandemic on?

Oddly Mr. Minnan-Wong voted against his own motion. Toronto Council never fails to entertain.

Vote (Adopt Item)Apr-30-2020
Result: LostMajority Required – IE12.8 – Infrastructure and Environment Committee Recommendation 9 only
Yes: 8Brad Bradford, Joe Cressy, Paula Fletcher, Mike Layton, Jennifer McKelvie, Gord Perks, Anthony Perruzza, Kristyn Wong-Tam
No: 16Paul Ainslie, Ana Bailão, Mike Colle, Gary Crawford, John Filion, Michael Ford, Mark Grimes, Stephen Holyday, Jim Karygiannis, Cynthia Lai, Josh Matlow, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Frances Nunziata (Chair), James Pasternak, Michael Thompson, John Tory
Absent: 2Shelley Carroll, Jaye Robinson

Bless the Diavolitsis family although it’s sad that we need to raise charitable donations for our hospitals.

Local Weston and Mount Dennis business needs our patronage more than ever.

Canadian inventiveness and ‘Made In Canada’ labels may become a more common sight as we realize the sense of supporting local industry.

Education:
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has got his wish of increased distance learning and almost every student in the province is taking part in a giant online / distant learning experiment. The original goal of the Ford government was to cut education costs by requiring high school students to take four online credits. After an outcry the number was reduced to two credits but the pandemic may make online learning a necessity.

Lastly, universities coining gazillions of dollars from overseas students are learning that their golden goose has been cooked by Covid-19. In early 2020, more than 600,000 foreign students made Canada their learning playground. There’s simply no point in overseas students paying top dollar for courses at U of T or McGill if they can’t have the physical student experience of skipping classes and getting shitfaced, which is after all a major point of the exercise. No doubt accommodation and other repercussions will echo across the land when the students’ $22 billion and 170,000 related jobs disappear.

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.

Westmount Army and Navy seeks help.

Westmount Army and Navy Club.

Westmount Army and Navy Club has been around since 1938. It’s at 41 Kingdom Street off Scarlett Road just across the river in Greater Weston™. The idea of the club is to support veterans, family and friends along with the local community. They were serving the community before and after World War II and the Korean War and in 1954 the club became a refuge and coordination centre in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel.

Nowadays, the club acts as a meeting spot for many in the community and members can enjoy a quiet drink while playing darts, cards, shuffleboard and the like. The club is occasionally rented for special events but COVID-19 has put paid to all of that.

Since closing on March 18th, revenue has stopped, vital maintenance work is ongoing and the utility bills keep coming. The club is entirely self-supporting and relies on nothing else.

The club is asking for community support through a gofundme campaign that if successful, will see them through the lockdown and help them get ready for their eventual re-opening when they can once again serve the community.

Find the gofundme link here.

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.