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T.O.'s Emergency Operation Centre preparing for COVID-19 spread
March 13, 2020
Kevin Connor

Although there have been no local transmissions of COVID-19, Toronto is ready for the expected community spread, officials say.

On Thursday morning, the city activated its Emergency Operation Centre and it was operating at a Level One, but by the afternoon that had been upgraded to a Level Two meaning the centre will be staffed 24 hours a day.

Level Three is the highest.

The move came one day after the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 has been given pandemic status.

“We have robust plans in place to respond to situations as they arise,” Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, general manager of the EOC, said Thursday explaining the COVID-19 situation has been changing hourly.

“Torontonians can have confidence that the city is coordinated and is responding proactively to the ever-changing circumstances of COVID-19,” he added.

Pegg says a task force is working on plans for an escalation of the virus spread and in that scenario all city services that can be maintained will be.

The city hasn’t placed a ban on large gatherings as other metropolises have already done, but such a decision is being studied and monitored daily.

“In all cases, the city’s response must be scaleable,” Pegg said.

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health recommends avoiding large gathers, suggests meetings be held virtually and says handshaking is out.

Dr. Eileen de Villa also says people returning from abroad -- especially from China, Italy and Iran where the virus is rampant -- should be self-isolating for 14 days whether or not they have symptoms.

There are 59 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ontario. Toronto Public Health is monitoring 29 cases.

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“New cases are from people arriving from outside Canada, including the U.S.,” de Villa said, adding while there is no local transmission of the virus that is expected to change.

“(You) must be vigilant and monitor yourself for 14 days after travel.”

These people must avoid groups, and visiting the elderly or people with chronic health conditions.

She added that anyone who has had contact with some who has been in contact with a person exposed to COVID-19 doesn’t need to have specific health follow-ups.

Mayor John Tory said it is critical for the city and people to make decisions based on public health experts as the virus has already taken a toll on jobs and the economy.

He said the city is close to an agreement with inside workers, CUPE Local 79, to avoid a work stoppage that could happen Saturday.

In such a scenario, the city has plans in place to carry out their responsibilities, even in a looming crisis.

“We have made a lot of progress and are working hard to get a deal,” Tory said.