According to Mayor John Tory, the city of Toronto is preparing for a “worst-case scenario” in which 50 to 60 percent of its frontline workers becomes ill or isolates as a result of COVID-19 exposures, and some non-essential activities must be “modified or terminated.”
Tory made the remark during a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday morning, where he emphasized the Omicron variant’s rapid spread and the potential impact on service delivery in the following weeks.
His remarks come as the Toronto Public Library reveals that 44 of its 96 locations will close on Monday owing to staffing shortages.
The Toronto Zoo has also announced that it will close until at least Jan. 27, even though the outdoor portions of the facility are still permitted to operate under the provincial emergency orders announced yesterday.
“We are planning for worst case scenarios, worst case, up to and including illness rates as high as 50 to 60 per cent so that we have the plans for that possible scenario. Hopefully those plans never have to be implemented but it is good to have a plan and we will indeed have robust, proper and thorough plans in that regard,” Tory said. ““We want people to know that there are these plans and to know of them so that they’re not surprised when some non-critical and non-essential services are adjusted or cancelled, which will then allow us to redeploy staff to support essential and critical services.”
During the first wave of the pandemic the city temporarily suspended a number of services in anticipation of a staffing crunch, including yard waste pick up.
At this point it is unclear which services could be paused or scaled back should the city experience a surge in Omicron-related absences but Tory said that staff are in the midst of a “methodical” review and hope to provide the public with more information about contingency plans later this week.
In the meantime, Tory said that the city remains “laser focused” on ensuring critical services continue to operate.
“Toronto’s emergency services will continue to respond to emergency calls without interruption and critical operations will continue so that safe drinking water comes out of your tap, the snow gets cleared and the garbage gets picked up, among other services,” he said. There will be adjustments and there is cooperation already taking place between these services as needed. But we take it as job one to keep doing what we have done all the way along, to maintain those critical and essential services for Torontonians at all times during the remainder of the pandemic.”
Firefighters responding to low-priority paramedic calls
Ontario has seen an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases over the last several weeks and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore warned on Monday that absentee rates of 20 to 30 per cent are likely across most sectors this month.
Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, who is charge of the city’s emergency task force, told reporters on Tuesday that Toronto’s emergency services are already relying on “overtime and shift extensions” to mitigate the effect of increased absentee rates.
He said that some protocols have also been adjusted to, for example, allow firefighters to respond to low priority paramedic calls where there is “no clear indication” of an injury.
Meanwhile, the city has established a pool of about 1,000 other employees who can be redeployed to support other essential services if need be.
The reforms come as municipalities face greater challenges in providing services.
In response to the high number of employee absences, the City of Vaughan took the proactive step of closing a number of its facilities, including most of its libraries, last week.
“It’s an activity that requires us to utilize our judgment,” Tory explained. “We want to keep as many services as possible going, but we want to do it in a responsible and effective way.” “At the top of the list overall is to make sure that those essential and critical services are maintained in a way that ensures the city remains safe and healthy for people to live in,” says the mayor.