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

 

Covid-19, Public health, Public safety, Toronto

Covid sources of infections in T.O.

Of the approximately 15,000 Covid-19 cases in Toronto, over 70% can be traced to either “close contact” (e.g. residing in the same household with a confirmed or probable case) or an outbreak. “Community” infections (i.e. not due to travel or close contact or a known location) account for almost 15% as per the chart below.

Covid-all

However, sources of infection vary by age group. First, let’s look at the youngest age group, which is 19 and younger. For this group 77% of cases were due to close contact. While outbreaks account for 10% and community transmission for 7%.

Covid-19

Secondly, let’s look at the oldest age group, which is folks 90 and over. For this age group 93% of the cases were due to outbreaks. This information is consistent with the news of several outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

Covid-90

Thirdly, let’s look at a middle-aged group those between 30 and 39 years of age. For this age group 38% of cases were due to close contact, 24% linked to outbreaks, and 17% caused by community transmission. The fact that community transmission is higher for middle-aged groups (compared to the young and the elderly) is consistent with the fact that middle-aged adults are most likely to buy groceries, run errands, go shopping, work in essential services etc. than youths and the elderly.

Covid-30

From the above we can conclude that youths are more likely to get infected due to close contact, while the elderly are more likely to get Covid-19 because of an outbreak. Furthermore, we can also conclude that community transmission is a risk, since people who get Covid-19 due to community transmission are likely to spread it via close contact to their partners, families, friends, roommates and co-workers. Consequently, we all still need to wear face masks outside of our homes, practice physical distancing and wash our hands frequently. Stay safe and listen to the science.

(Credit: this data comes from Open Data TO)

Public health, Public safety, Toronto

Help for small businesses during covid-19

Here is some financial help for small businesses during these times:
Stay safe,
Public health, Public safety, Toronto

Let’s honour those who work to keep us safe.

My favourite time of the day is 7:30 pm, when we go to our balcony and make some noise for all those who work to keep us safe, such as nurses, cleaners, grocery clerks, public transit workers, doctors, just to name a few. So go to your balcony, porch or window and make some noise.

For more information on this initiative please visit:

https://rnao.ca/news/media-releases/2020/03/19/rnao-asks-everyone-join-togetherwecandoit-campaign

Healthy Homes, Public health, Public safety, Safe Buildings, Toronto

Remove lead pipes

By now you have likely read the news “Hundreds of thousands of Canadians could be consuming tap water laced with high levels of lead leaching from aging infrastructure and plumbing“.

Removing lead pipes from residential buildings and municipal infrastructure is the only way to eliminate health risks in our communities. While some may point to the cost of lead pipe and lead plumbing removal, no action comes with a higher cost to our lives and health care system. There is also the side benefit that replacing lead lines helps our economy and creates jobs. Take action, sign our petition to remove lead pipes from apartment buildings today.

lead

 

 

Affordable Housing, Healthy Homes, Parkdale - High Park, Public health, Public safety, Safe Buildings, Toronto, Toronto Election, Ward 4

Apartments are Less Safe than Condos

Below, we state the case for raising apartment building standards, i.e. to make apartments as safe as condos.

My wife and I live in a condominium building close to High Park. In the vicinity, there is an apartment building in the Parkdale-High Park neighbourhood where the residents have reported the following: elevators are frequently broken down, its walkways and sidewalks are not cleared from ice promptly, frequently there is an odour in the lobby, the garbage room often is a complete mess, and those are just some of the problems reported. In contrast, our condo has none of these problems. One could argue that our condo is relatively new, but even condos built in the 70’s do not have the issues we have seen in Parkdale-High Park, St. James Town, and in many other parts of Toronto.

So why do apartment buildings in Toronto have these problems and condos do not? The reason is the law. Specifically, the laws governing safety in condominium buildings are much more stringent than the laws governing safety in apartment buildings.

How are these laws different? Our condo board members must take courses as required by the Condominium Act. On the other hand, landlords are not required to take any training in Toronto. Our condo property manager must be licensed also a requirement under the Condo Act. On the other hand, apartment property managers do not need to be licensed in Toronto. Our condo must undergo a Reserve Fund study every three years, which must be completed by qualified professionals as per the Condo Act. Similarly, apartment buildings must have a capital plan under the new Rent Safe program in Toronto. However, there is no explicit requirement the capital plan be completed by qualified professionals.

There is a two-tier system for safety in residential buildings, one for condos which have stringent safety standards requiring training, licensing and professional advice; and another one for apartment buildings with no training and licensing requirements and no qualified professional offering advice. Apartments and condos are our homes. Wherever we live Torontonians have the same right to safe and healthy homes. Consequently, we started the following petition Raise Apartment Building Standards in Toronto, which we hope you will support today.

https://www.change.org/p/john-tory-raise-apartment-building-standards-in-toronto

Apartments