Affordable Housing, Covid-19, Healthy Homes, Mental health, Public health, Public safety, Toronto

German city supports tiny shelters while T.O. takes legal action against them

The City of Ulm has embraced an innovation created by its residents: sleep pods for the homeless.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/55778733

Meanwhile in T.O. a similar project “Toronto Tiny Shelters” is facing legal action from the City.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ont-homeless-encampments-1.5920822

In both Ulm and T.O. these projects originated thanks to very creative people who have a passion to assist others. The key difference is that the City of Ulm supported this project while our Mayor and Council not only did not support this visionary solution, they believe that taking to court someone who has made a positive difference in people’s lives during this pandemic is a good idea.

If you do not believe that, ask yourselves which Councillor right now is tweeting their support for Khaleel Seivwright the brilliant person behind this wonderful design? Also, which Councillor is going on record stating that this legal action should stop and instead the City should collaborate with the Toronto Tiny Shelters project? No one is and that is very disappointing.

The argument that Tiny Shelters are unsafe because they are made of wood is weak, since they are equipped with flame resistant materials, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. Also, many homes in T.O. are made of wood. And Ulm’s sleep pods are also made of wood.  Furthermore, the contention that Toronto Tiny Shelters is not following requirements is just as feeble. Governments can always make exemptions to bylaws and regulations when it is in the interest of the public, such as providing emergency shelter for the homeless during a pandemic. To those that argue that Tiny Shelters are not the answer to the complicated problem of homelessness take note that there is no one answer to this issue and Tiny Shelters as an emergency measure can save lives. The actual problem is we do not have leaders in Council who accept that often the best solutions to our problems come from members of the public, like Khaleel Seivwright.

To manage a crisis such as a pandemic both leadership and vision are required. By not supporting Toronto Tiny Shelters this Council has shown a lack of both. However, to end on a positive note Khaleel Seivwright and his team deserve our support. Please visit their website, thank you, and stay safe.

https://www.torontotinyshelter.org/

Ask Mayor Tory and your Councillor to support Toronto Tiny Shelters

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

Blaming international travelers

Not every Canadian who gets on a plane is like Rod Phillips, the minister who went on a Caribbean vacation to only find himself upon his return like Luca Brasi in The Godfather: “swimming with the fishes”. The reality is that few countries are currently allowing international travelers into their borders. Several countries around the globe are only allowing their citizens to return or visit family. Consequently, airports around the world look like ghost towns, flights are rescheduled or cancelled daily. Pearson airport has never looked lonelier.

Some countries were starting to reopen their borders when suddenly the “it’s mutated” scene from the 2011 film Contagion became reality, and new more contagious strains of Covid started appearing around the globe. The new strains will likely put a stop to these reopening plans.

Yet, Premier Ford created a fictional enemy “the irresponsible partying international traveler” that is bringing new Covid strains to Canada. Several airlines already required all passengers to provide negative Covid test results before boarding, even before Minister Garneau announced requirements to provide negative tests. And several countries either test and or quarantine passengers upon arrival. And unlike Canada, they send people to quarantine facilities for three weeks with a tracking wristband, not their homes for two weeks with the ArriveCAN app. And now with the new strains, there probably will be more stringent testing requirements and longer quarantine periods for travelers worldwide. It seems that one of the only “partying international travelers” was his former Finance Minister.

While it makes sense to test passengers upon arrival and perhaps even consider longer quarantine periods for travelers, let’s not lose sight of the fact, that the main problem we have in Ontario is still local transmission. Shutting down Pearson will not address the root cause. Pearson is a ghost town these days anyway.

Hardly anyone is flying, so why blame international travelers?

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

Ontario needs paid pandemic leave

More than 7,600 workers in Ontario have contracted Covid in their workplace.

Reference: https://www.toronto.com/news-story/10293646-thousands-of-workers-got-covid-19-on-the-job-but-the-ministry-of-labour-has-fined-just-one-employer/

These numbers build a strong case that current sick leave policies are woefully inadequate especially during a pandemic. Certainly, having only 3 unpaid job-protected sick days (the Ontario minimum) is not sufficient in times of Covid, because behavioural psychology demonstrates that we are good at fooling ourselves into thinking that potential Covid symptoms might be just the start of a cold if the alternative is no pay or worse job loss. There is always pressure to work while sick.

Reference: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20161013-the-psychology-behind-the-subtle-pressure-to-work-when-sick

On the positive side, Ontario has effective parental leave policies that ensure employees are paid and their jobs are protected. Parental leave works well because the government covers the cost through employment insurance. A new paid pandemic leave programme could be modelled after parental leave policies. If we have parental leave why not pandemic leave?

Reference: https://www.ontario.ca/document/your-guide-employment-standards-act-0/pregnancy-and-parental-leave

To effectively reduce contagion in the workplace Ontario should implement a pandemic leave program that pays employees and protects their jobs when:

  1. They test positive for Covid,
  2. They are exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid or they have Covid symptoms and they are in isolation awaiting test results, or
  3. They need to stay home to take care of their children during school closures due to the pandemic.

Ontario needs paid pandemic leave, anything less, and sick employees will go to work, and contagion will continue. Some will argue that paid pandemic leave will be costly. My answer is that nobody argued that D-day was costly or that liberating Holland would burden us Canadians with debt. Despite all that is wrong we should remain hopeful that just like our foreparents overcame great obstacles, we will too.

Harbourfront, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Covid-19, Ontario, Parkdale - High Park, Public health, Public safety, Toronto

Close big-box stores

The frustration of businesses that had to close in-store shopping when Toronto went into the “Grey-lockdown zone”, while their competitor big box stores remained open, is completely understandable. Premier Ford rationalized that it would be difficult for these big stores to close their toy departments and only sell groceries. While I completely disagree with the Premier (room dividers were invented centuries ago) and agree with businesses that were forced to close that there is an unfairness to these measures, the key problem is that we still haven’t flattened the curve.

Let’s face reality, at the beginning of the pandemic we had a contact tracing system in Ontario that relied on fax machines and manual entry. The new system is better, but we are way behind Korea and Taiwan who have taken contact tracing to a state of the art. This means until a significant amount of our population has been vaccinated our best remedy is asking businesses to close their doors to save lives and protect public health.

Recently, Canadian Appliance Source (CAS) wanted to remain open to customers shopping at their stores, but lost a decision, in part because the judge correctly noted that they are not a hardware store and therefore not exempt from the lockdown. Below is an insightful statement from this case:

Cdn Appliance made forceful arguments that as an appliance supplier, it is an essential service business; visualize: who’s to say that during a pandemic that a washing machine that cleans clothes or a refrigerator that preserves food is less essential than a hammer? https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2020/2020onsc7665/2020onsc7665.html

Last spring, during the height of the first wave our washer-dryer unit broke down and the repair person said it was cheaper to buy a new one. I called CAS and fortunately was able to order a new unit and have it installed in just a couple of days. CAS is right in saying that an appliance is no less essential than hardware. Having a working washer-dryer unit means we can stay home, not go out to the laundromat, and thus avoid potential exposure to the virus. It is not ideal to buy online or over the phone. Certainly, I would have liked to have seen the unit in person first, but these certainly aren’t ideal times. The court case exposed the contradictions in the recent “lockdown”. However, since hammers and washing machines can both be bought over the phone or online, shouldn’t hardware stores close their doors too?

This second wave is worse than the first one. So we have to ask ourselves if a business can sell their products and services over the phone or online then maybe that business must be closed to in-store shopping during this second surge. The big-box stores have the IT infrastructure to sell by phone and online. They also have the means to afford a temporary closure of their stores. Big box stores must close their doors too.

If a refrigerator that preserves food is just as essential as duct tape, why are hardware stores open and appliance stores closed?
Covid-19, Ontario, Public health, Public safety, Toronto

Tolerate anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers?

Taxicab in Makati


Sometimes it seems like we all have that neighbour that despite all evidence showing face masks reduce contagion refuses to wear a mask in indoor public spaces citing individual rights, but conveniently ignoring everyone else’s right to live in a secure and safe community. 

Canadian case law is clear: governments are allowed to place reasonable limits on individual rights to protect public health. Furthermore, it is abundantly clear that current restrictions, such as the mandatory wearing of face masks are only temporary measures in consequence of a pandemic. Thus the argument that governments in Canada are trampling over individual rights is a weak one.

This argument becomes even weaker when we compare ourselves to other countries, which require both face masks and face shields to be worn as double protection in public places. In the Philippines, for example, if you don’t wear a face mask together with a face shield you will not get a taxi, it’s that simple. Temperature checks are mandatory before entering a restaurant or shopping mall in its capital Manila. Furthermore, all international travellers must undergo a Covid test at the airport upon arrival to the Philippines. While travellers to Taiwan are required to take a test before departure. By comparison to these two countries, Canadian health measures are both lenient and very reasonable.

Yet some anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are over-dramatically insisting that public health measures in Canada are authoritarian. As someone who grew up in the Dominican Republic during Balaguer’s civilian-authoritarianism before moving to Toronto, I sincerely doubt they understand what authoritarian measures look like. Seriously, who has been locked up in Canada for not wearing a face mask? Someone did get arrested for obstruction of justice only after receiving repeated warnings and blatantly ignoring public health measures while risking the safety of his customers and employees. The fact that this person didn’t even have a business licence before the pandemic began demonstrates that he is unwilling to follow even the most minimum requirements on a good day. Fortunately, he doesn’t represent the vast majority of small business owners who care about the well being of their clients and workers.

The irony is that both the anti-mask and anti-vaxx movements claim the mantle of freedom, yet by practicing disinformation and engaging in hateful conspiracy theories they have proven to be very intolerant. Caving to their demands will only prolong this pandemic and harm the common good. Thus we should heed Karl Popper’s advice on the limits of a tolerant society and under these special circumstances claim the right to not tolerate these two groups, when they break the law in a manner that compromises public safety. Furthermore, while we respect everyone’s freedom of expression rights; nonetheless, reasonable temporary face mask requirements, which are supported by scientific research, should not be a time-consuming debate in the middle of a pandemic that has cost lives.

On the other hand, we should have a healthy debate on how far do we as a society want to go with requiring proof of immunization, now that vaccines will be available soon. Certainly, mandatory vaccinations are out of the question in Canada thanks to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But just like I have to wear prescription eyeglasses to drive a car, shortly I may have to show proof that I have received a vaccine before being allowed to buy tickets to the next Rodriguez concert. In general terms, we have a right to a safe workplace and Covid is a hazard. So, how far should we go with requiring proof of vaccination to ensure workplace safety? Certainly, there might be workers who are unable to receive a vaccine due to valid health reasons e.g. an allergy. But what if a worker refuses vaccination under religious grounds? The answers might be case by case. Regardless, this is an important debate to have right now.

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, 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.

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

The case for Canada’s Covid Alert app

There are five reasons why we should all be optimistic about Canada’s new Covid Alert app:

  1. An Oxford study indicates that Contact Tracing apps have the potential to significantly reduce Covid transmission (noting that half of transmission cases occurred before symptoms were present);
  2. Both, Korea and Taiwan have implemented highly successful Contact Tracing apps;
  3. The low level of virus exposure notifications by some European Contact Tracing apps can be explained by the fact that social distancing measures are still in effect and these apps are still in the early stages of adoption;
  4. The Bluetooth technology used to determine “close contact” might be new, but is continuously improving; and
  5. Apple and Google, which developed the Application Programming Interface (API) used by Covid Alert, prioritized privacy.

Critics of the new app are correct to point out that many essential workers and retired folks might not be able to afford a smartphone to run this app. Nonetheless, these problems can be resolved by implementing new laws requiring employers to provide smartphones to essential workers, just like they are required to provide them with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Furthermore, governments should strongly consider providing free smartphones to seniors and anyone who cannot afford them in their efforts to turn the tide against Covid.

Engineers, scientists, and those working with new technologies understand that no innovation is perfect from the get-go. In fact, several iterations may be required to have a successful Covid Alert program. It is not in our spirit to give up when the going gets tough. Otherwise, Canadians would not have invented the electric wheelchair, the pacemaker, or the telephone just to name a few of our innovations.

This blog post is a call to all engineers, programmers, scientists, technologists, and innovation enthusiasts in Ontario to download the Covid Alert app today, and to please help your co-workers, family and friends install it as well. The science says Contact Tracing apps have the potential to significantly reduce Covid transmission. Now it is our turn to use Covid Alert, help improve it, and do what we do best which is to protect the public.

CovidAlert

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

Preventing a second wave of Covid in T.O.

After months of mostly bad news, the latest Covid figures from Open Data Toronto give us some reasons to be hopeful. In fact, the past two days, we have seen the lowest numbers of daily Covid cases since the start of the pandemic. As relieved as this data might make us feel, it is important to note that the struggle to put an end to Covid in T.O. is not over. Which means that prevention measures, such as: frequent hand washing, physical distancing, staying home if possible, and wearing face masks need to continue for the foreseeable future to avert a second wave.

Furthermore, it was encouraging, but not surprising to see the total number of daily cases drop even further after the TTC and the City made face coverings mandatory. Most notably, daily sporadic cases (i.e. not associated with an outbreak) have been in the single digits the past two days. While there are a number of factors that contributed to this drop, the science is crystal clear, face masks help reduce contagion: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/06/417906/still-confused-about-masks-heres-science-behind-how-face-masks-prevent

While some of us might oppose wearing face masks, as a community we are better off when we follow the advice of professionals and the latest science, especially on matters concerning public health and safety.

Together we have managed to lower the number of Covid daily cases in T.O. significantly. However, we need to be aware that other cities, which achieved similar success and rushed to lift restrictions (without implementing reasonable mitigation measures), later found themselves facing a second wave, and consequently had to shut down their economy once more. Until there is a vaccine, or an effective treatment, or a new technology that prevents transmission in a significant way, at least for now, the best methods we have for reducing Covid cases are: frequent handwashing, engaging in physical distancing, studying or working from home (when possible), and wearing a face mask (especially when indoors).

We The North can enjoy the outdoors (e.g. parks and patios) with a warm jacket in the Fall and even Winter, so even though restrictions will be lifted soon, there should be no reason to go to indoor spaces known for their risk of outbreaks (e.g. crowded bars, large parties or packed restaurants). Stay safe and stay hopeful.

Sporadic

Covid-19, Public health, Public safety, Toronto

Face masks are reducing Covid-19 transmission in T.O.

In a previous post we looked at Covid infections for people in their 30’s, since this age group has been affected more by community transmission than others. One of the purposes of wearing face masks is to reduce the number of community transmissions e.g. when we go to shopping, take public transit, get some take out etc. So, the question is: has community transmission of Covid gone down since July 7th (the date when faces masks became mandatory inside public spaces in Toronto)? The answer is, yes. Specifically, if we look at people in their 30’s the number of daily reported cases has significantly gone down. In fact, as of July 8th we are looking at the lowest numbers since the start of the pandemic.

covid-daily-30