Covid-19, Ontario, Parkdale - High Park, Public health, Reduce HST, Toronto

Reduce HST to help small businesses

We live in a society that did not blink once when it came to bail out banks and automotive companies, even when they dug themselves in a hole. However, when small businesses face economic uncertainty in a pandemic, which was no fault of their own, we are slow to respond with help. Ironic, when we consider that 70% of our workforce is employed by small businesses.

One problem we Canadians often run into is our desire to compare ourselves to the US, which by most accounts is a low bar when it comes to fighting Covid. Likewise, as Ontarians, we often like to compare ourselves to Quebec, another low bar in this struggle. Instead, we should look at the rest of the world, which is turning to VAT (their equivalent to Ontario’s HST) cuts to counter the economic downturn caused by Covid.

There is a strong case that the right amount of HST reductions may help the restaurant and hospitality sectors. Germany provides an exemplary economic plan which includes VAT reductions. Reducing the VAT (our HST) is “a simple and direct way to encourage individuals to start consuming again, quickly” states economist Pascal de Lima. Therefore, Canada and Ontario should follow Germany’s lead and include GST/HST/PST reductions as part of our economic recovery plan.

To end on a positive note, one of the best things about living in Parkdale-High Park is all the wonderful restaurants and local businesses we have in our neighbourhood. For example, I’m lucky to live just steps away from Aztec’s Mine, which makes delicious authentic Mexican cuisine. Like many small businesses they are family-owned and operated. And I am certain they and our local businesses could use your clientele during these trying times.

Aztec’s Mine – authentic Mexican cusine on 1986 Bloor St W, just in front of High Park
Covid-19, Ontario, Parkdale - High Park, Public health, Public safety, Toronto

Restaurant patio tents must have at least two full sides open

By now you likely know that “the data available so far indicate that indoor transmission of the virus far outstrips outdoor transmission.” Which is a key reason why outdoor dining is safer than indoor dining. As the weather has become colder in Toronto, we have seen patio tents in restaurants become ubiquitous. Which raises the question: at what point does dining in an enclosed tent become as risky as dining indoors?

What does the law say? First, let’s look at the CaféTo guidelines.  Which state:

A tent/structure may be permitted on private property if the following requirements are met:

  • An area that is covered by a roof, canopy, tent, awning or other element, must have at least two full sides open to the outdoors and cannot not be blocked by other walls or physical…

Some might argue that this requirement is just a guideline. However, Ontario Regulation 263/20 RULES FOR AREAS IN STAGE 2 mirrors the above guidelines and states in Schedule 2:

12.  If an outdoor dining area at the establishment is covered by a roof, canopy, tent, awning or other element, at least two full sides of the entire outdoor dining area must be open to the outdoors and must not be substantially blocked by any walls or other impermeable physical barriers.

13.  If an outdoor dining area at the establishment is equipped with a retractable roof and the roof is retracted, at least one full side of the outdoor dining area must be open to the outdoors and must not be substantially blocked by any walls or other impermeable physical barriers.

Based on the above it is a legal requirement for restaurant patio tents to have two full sides open to the outdoors. The purpose of this requirement is to increase outdoor airflow and thus reduce the risk of Covid transmission.

What happens if you see a restaurant that is not in compliance with this requirement e.g. a completely enclosed tent with customers inside? You may want to heed the purpose of this requirement and not dine there due to the risks. If you know the owner, you might want to inform them about these requirements. You also can contact 311 to inform the City of potential noncompliance.

Restaurant workers and owners have been hard hit during this pandemic. I admire their resolve in face of trouble and their use of patio tents to save their jobs and business. As the weather becomes colder there might be a temptation to close the tents i.e. not have at least two full sides open. However, these rules are there to protect us. While there is a case that all levels of government might not be doing enough to help the restaurant industry, that is still no excuse for not complying with regulations that protect safety.

Restaurant patio tents must have at least two full sides open
Covid-19, Mental health, Parkdale - High Park, Public health

Falling in love again

The High Park Tennis Courts located at 11 Colborne Lodge Drive are still open for anyone wanting to enjoy this unseasonably warm November. The best part is that these are public courts, meaning anyone can just show up and play. If the courts are busy you can simply hang your racquet on a board to reserve a court and play at the switch over time which occurs every 30 minutes on the hour or the ½ hour.

Tennis is important to me since I come from a tennis-playing family. My parents’ home in Scarborough has several tennis trophies stored in the basement. Also, I still can vividly remember my childhood spending hours with my brothers watching the Grand Slam tournaments on television and cheering for Borg, Connors, or Vilas. You could say that tennis is my family’s passion, as far as sports are concerned.

I must admit that despite of this passion the past few years I have been playing more recreational soccer to the neglect of my first sports love, tennis. Until Covid hit us and team sports were canceled out of necessity. So, I stored my soccer ball and dusted off my tennis racquet and started to play tennis again with family and friends in High Park.

Years ago back when I was a young and moody teenager a child psychologist recommended that I play more sports to lift myself up. My parents and brothers were already playing tennis, so, it was an easy decision for me to follow their lead and take up tennis. Unlike my brothers, I was never a top A player in high school and often was in the B or C doubles team, but nonetheless, tennis did help transform my outlook on life. Tennis showed me that in difficult times there are still things we can do to raise our spirits.

Today, tennis has once again raised my spirits as it did during those trying adolescent years, by giving me a break from these troubled times. It was inspiring to see Thiem and Osaka win the US Open earlier this year in the middle of a pandemic. Sports teach us that even when there are challenges ahead, we must never give up. Because if your opponent misses a lob or you hit a winning shot, suddenly you could be up 40-love. Speaking of never giving up there is an amazing documentary on Netflix about Guillermo Vilas’ quest to be recognized as the number 1 player back in the mid ’70s which I highly recommend to anyone. Vilas was my childhood idol. His focus, determination, and tireless dedication were impressive.

In difficult times, we are often frustrated because there is so much, we cannot control. So, let’s focus on what we can control and try to enjoy those activities that inspire us and give us hope. For me it’s tennis maybe for you it’s chess or making ceviche. It does not matter. Take care, stay safe, and remember the pandemic will pass.

Canadian Open tennis champion, Guillermo Vilas
by Boris Spremo
(Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Courtesy of Toronto Public Library)

Covid Alert, Covid-19, Ontario, Public health, Toronto

Your bubble is bigger than you think

Contract tracing can be effective if you were exposed to Covid-19 at a restaurant or at your workplace, where your phone number was logged so that you could be called in the event of an outbreak.

However, how would you know if the person you sat next to on the bus or the subway for more than 15 minutes later tested positive for Covid? Or what if you spent 25 minutes shopping and were exposed to multiple asymptomatic people without knowing it.

The reality is that often we cross paths with many people in one day, but unfortunately contact tracing is not always a possibility. We might think of our bubbles consisting of our partner, friends, coworkers, and family, but the truth is our bubbles are bigger than what we think.

But what if you and the person you sat next to on the subway both wore masks and had the Covid Alert app installed on your smartphones? The masks would reduce the risk of transmission, and the Covid Alert app would notify you and others who came in close contact with that person of exposure, thus helping prevent further contagion. To help flatten the curve we must make the Covid Alert app as popular as mask-wearing. Download Covid Alert today and help spread the word.

Covid Alert, Covid-19, Ontario, Public health, Toronto

Covid Alert prevents further infections

The cancellation of a curling event in Waterloo after a player was notified by the Covid Alert app that they had contact with a person who tested positive for Covid-19 is a win for the hard-working team that developed this app. A win because this cancellation is a case study of exactly how the app should work.

Imagine we did not have the Covid Alert app and the player was infected. The player could transmit the virus to the other players, the players could transmit the virus to patrons and employees at their local pub, the patrons and employees could transmit the virus to their partners who teach at the local school, and the teachers could transmit the virus to students and other teachers. The curling event would be a bubble connected to the pub’s bubble, which in turn is connected to the school’s bubble. And without Covid Alert we could have had yet another dreaded super spreader event. However, what Covid Alert achieved was to separate the curling event, the pub, and the school into separate bubbles.

Hopefully, the player will not test positive. However, close contact presents a risk which the event organizers did not want to take. Kudos to them for showing a level of responsibility commensurate with the potential gravity of the circumstances. Perhaps they adverted several infections in great part thanks to the Covid Alert app. Certainly, the event organizers have set an example in caring for the safety of their community.

The news is bad these days. Ontario is in a second wave, the contact tracing team in Toronto is overwhelmed, but we can still take positive action: please download the Covid Alert app today. It works.

Covid Alert prevents further infections
Covid-19, Ontario, Public health, Toronto

Covid hotspots in the GTA

You may have heard in the news that Brampton unfortunately is a Covid hotspot in the General Toronto Area (GTA). Recent numbers show us that Peel Region has reported 1,180 cases since August 1, 2020 compared to the City of Toronto which reported 1,357 cases for the same time frame. The problem is that Toronto (with 2.9 million) has almost twice the population of Peel Region (with 1.5 million) yet the number of cases is comparable.

These numbers tell us that any Provincial plan to tackle this problem must go beyond blaming a few partygoers and bars. There is a strong case for more and wider testing especially in these hotspots to contain outbreaks. Also, I would like to speak to my fellow Toronto residents and say it is time to become less Toronto centric since many people live in Peel yet work in Toronto and vice versa. Therefore, any solution must consider that Peel and Toronto are in this problem together. After all, we have several Covid hotspots in Toronto as well.

We all need to demand our members of provincial Parliament more testing and improved contact tracing now otherwise we will be looking at the very real possibility of a Covid second wave in the GTA.

Covid cases in the GTA since August 1, 2020
Covid Alert, Covid-19, Public health, Toronto

Covid Hotspots in T.O.

Last month, we saw two trends in T.O.:

This week we are seeing a familiar and sad pattern, new cases are concentrated in North Etobicoke and North Scarborough. For example, the postal code M9R in North Etobicoke has had 66 reported cases since August 1, 2020. In contrast, postal codes in Central Toronto are in the single digits for the same timeframe.

We have heard that density is one possible reason why there are Covid hotspots in Toronto. However, when we see far more dense cities like Taipei having defeated Covid, we quickly realize that density is not an excuse.

Certainly, there is a link between Covid cases and income. However, we have the means to help North Etobicoke and North Scarborough. Consequently, we should act by demanding the following from our governments:

Together we have managed to slow the spread of Covid down significantly, together we can defeat it.

Covid cases by postal code T.O.
Covid-19, Public health, Toronto

People under 40 account for 65% of recent Covid cases in T.O.

First, here is the good news: back in late July and early August we saw daily reported Covid cases in T.O. drop to the single digits. Furthermore, so far in August, we have been averaging about 18 new cases a day. Now for some disconcerting news, residents under 40 make up 65 % of the cases seen in August, in other words, two thirds.

It might be easy to imagine crowded indoor bars full of young people not wearing masks and thereby pass judgement. However, we all know that several essential workers are under 40. So, it is not clear what is causing this discrepancy between age groups.

Faced with this uncertainty, perhaps the best course of action is education, such as Dr. Eileen de Villa’s recent announcement. Villa reminds us that despite some encouraging numbers we must all remain vigilant as we enter Stage 3. Otherwise, the consequences can be a second wave of Covid.

One key lesson these statistics teach us is that youth does not mean immunity. The fact that in 2 out of 3 cases the person is under 40 means that we all must be careful, regardless of age.

Under40
Daily Covid T.O. cases in August 2020

Covid-19, Ontario, Public health, Public safety, Toronto

Covid transmission indoors

In early 2020 there was a Covid outbreak in an air-conditioned restaurant in Guangzhou, China. A study about this specific outbreak concluded that,“droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation.” A subsequent study recommended avoiding re-circulated air and maximizing outdoor air supply in buildings. Then the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) produced a guidance document for re-opening schools and universities.  However, one key fact remains: there is less risk of Covid transmission outdoors than indoors.

We can safely conclude that there is less risk outdoors, because most Covid transmissions have taken place indoors, and there has only been a limited number of outdoor transmission cases, as per Ian Hanomansing’s informative tweet.

This knowledge should be driving our public policy. Specifically, in the following areas:

  • University and school classes need to be outdoors (weather permitting) or better yet completely online,
  • Bars and restaurants need to have open windows or preferably patio seating, and
  • Employers may need to upgrade their ventilation systems and implement engineering controls.

On a personal note, it was sad to see Brothers Food & Wine permanently closed. I have wonderful memories of spending time there with family. However, it was admirable to see the owners of Brothers recognize that it would not be responsible to reopen a locale which did not lend itself to physical distancing.

Likewise, we must all do our part during this pandemic and whenever possible take our activities outdoors. If outdoors is not an option nor is staying at home, employers and educational institutions must rely on professional advice to implement risk mitigation measures, such as engineering controls, personal protection equipment, physical distancing and upgrading of ventilation systems.

brothers
Brothers Food & Wine is now permanently closed.