Public toilets in parks to start reopening this weekend; Ontario considering regional approach to reopening in stage 2 as testing expands

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4:39 pm Toronto to reopen public washrooms in parks

After police ticketed several people for urinating and defecating on properties around Trinity Bellwoods last weekend, the city will ensure park’s public washrooms are open this weekend.

In a news release, the city said it will then roll out a phased reopening all park washrooms over the next several weeks beginning with Trinity Bellwoods. Toronto Public Health also will create guidelines for the safe opening of washrooms and other amenities.

The lack of public toilets in Toronto has long been a glaring public health issue, but the issue of access to restroom facilities has grown more urgent as the public is encouraged to wash hands frequently in order to curb spread of COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the city opened eight portable washrooms and hand-washing stations and six locations with showers and access to drinking water for people who are experiencing homelessness.


4:24 pm Major employers and schools agree to extend work-from-home policies

Mayor John Tory has announced a list of major corporations and post-secondary institutions that have pledged to keep people working from home while the city gradually reopens during the coronavirus pandemic.

During a press conference at city hall, Tory said the increasing difficulty to physical distance on public transit will be an issue as lockdown measures lift. Toronto has seen an 80 per cent drop in TTC ridership during the crisis, Tory said, adding that physical distancing can be maintained if capacity is brought up to 30 per cent – or an additional 180,000 per day.

To that end, the city is working with major employers to ensure people who normally commute continue working remotely. The mayor said finance and insurance company employees comprise 50,000 riders, or 12 per cent of daily ridership, and more than half of students attending colleges and universities commute by transit.

The companies and institutions that have agreed to continue work-from-home policies during the city’s gradual reopening Bank Of Montreal, Canada Life, KPMG, Manulife, Rogers, Royal Bank, SunLife, Zurich, Humber College, Ryerson University, the University of Toronto, OCAD University, George Brown College and York University, among others.


4:16 pm Toronto lowers property taxes for music venues

Venues can now apply for a property tax reduction which will reduce their property tax by 50 per cent. 

The idea was first proposed in a meeting of Toronto Music Advisory Committee (TMAC) on May 13 and has now been fast-tracked through city council, which voted to adopt the motion on Thursday.

The measure is part of the city’s COVID-19 recovery efforts and relief will be immediate for venue owners and operators. Applications will be open until June 19 at 5 pm. Eligible venues can email livemusicvenuetax [at] toronto.ca to request an application form.

The criteria are similar those first discussed at TMAC: venues must compensate artists for performances, have some infrastructure (a fixed stage area, sound booth, etc) and employ certain venue staff. The venue can also have a maximum capacity of 1,500 people.

Newer clauses include an expansion from the need to present live music a minimum of 144 days annually. If venues were closed by emergency orders as a result of the pandemic, they must present live music 40 per cent of all operating days within the calendar year. 

Read more here.


4:05 pm Toronto reports 175 new COVID-19 cases, 10 deaths

Toronto Public Health officials have reported 175 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the city’s total to 10,901. The number of people who have recovered is 8,086 people recovered, an increase of 102 since yesterday. Another 10 people have died. In all, 810 people have died from COVID-19 in the city.


1:22 pm Ontario now considering regional approach to reopening in stage 2

Premier Doug Ford said today is asking public officials to explore a regional approach to staged reopening as province moves into phase two.

“We’re only able to do this because we’re getting our testing to where we need it,” Ford said. “I know other jurisdictions have used a regional approach. I want to look at how this is gone in other areas… We will continue to take a measured, gradual approach to reopening based on the advice of our command table.”

Ford said a regional approach to reopening could be possible now that the province is expanding testing for the general public, frontline workers, first responders and work places.

Under Ontario’s new testing strategy, COVID-19 testing will be expanded to include asymptomatic individuals concerned about exposure. Public health will do targeted campaigns to detect and contain the virus by expanding testing among asymptomatic people in long-term care homes and other shared living spaces like shelters and group homes, as well as targeted testing of work places in priority sectors.

The third part of the strategy will be ensuring rapid and agile response in specific neighbourhoods and regions or at hospitals, institutions and workplaces.

People no longer need a referral to one of the province’s more than 130 assessment centres to get tested.

The province has a three-pronged plan for gradually reopening the economy. Stage one began on May 19 with retail stores with street entrances reopening. Regulated health practitioners were given a green light to reopen on May 27.


12:32 pm OPSEU boss demands Doug Ford apologize to unionized inspectors

The president of Ontario’s public sector union Warren “Smokey” Thomas wants Doug Ford to apologize for saying unionized inspectors refused to enter long-term care homes struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks.

“A good leader admits when they’re wrong, and the Premier couldn’t have been more wrong today,” Thomas said in a statement. “We understand it was a tough day for the Premier. We understand he’s under lots of pressure.

“But his ill-advised and incorrect remarks cut like a knife through the hearts of professional inspectors who have been sounding the alarm on the appalling state of long-term care for years. Do the right thing. Apologize. Deal with source of the bad advice, and then let’s move on.”

On Thursday, Ford told reporters during a news conference at Queen’s Park that he’s been “taking bullets” for the union because inspectors, fearing for their health and safety, “refused” to enter nursing homes after the pandemic began.

The union says inspectors “never once refused to go into long-term care homes” and neither Thomas nor OPSEU called for a work refusal. “A work refusal just never happened,” the union said in a statement.

Thomas added that he sent a letter on April 22 to Ford and Minster of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton warning them that homes lacked personal protective equipment and were overall unprepared for the crisis.

“With all those problems along with a lack of infection control, it was ill-advised for inspectors to enter multiple homes. It could have led to greater spread of COVID-19 amongst our seniors, especially with what we now know about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread,” Thomas said.

On April 14, public health officials ordered long-term care workers be limited to just one home.  The union said the same policy should apply to inspectors.


11:23 am Trudeau considering loosening restrictions on Canada-U.S. border 

The federal government is in talks with the provinces about loosening restrictions on non-essential travel over the Canada-U.S. border to allow for family reunification, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today.

“We are currently looking at how we could make a small change for family reunification,” Trudeau said, adding the modification would apply to people separated from “close family members” such as parents or children. Non-essential travel restrictions would still remain until the end of June as planned.

Trudeau added any change in the policy would be the subject of discussions with the premiers. He said some premiers are open to a modification, while others have concerns.


11:06 am Ottawa boosts funding for Indigenous communities by $650 million

The federal government has announced $650 million in aid to support Indigenous communities during the coronavirus pandemic. During a news conference in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the money will go to health-care, on-reserve support and shelters for women and children.

Here’s the funding breakdown:

  • $285.1 for community-led public health responses to COVID-19, including nurses and procuring specialized supplies
  • $270 million to boost the On-Reserve Income Assistance Program to support people who need help paying for groceries, cleaning supplies or rent
  • $44.8 million over five years to build 12 new shelters for Indigenous women and girls experiencing and fleeing violence. This funding will help build 10 shelters in First Nations communities on reserve across the country, and two in the territories, to support Indigenous women and children. Ottawa will also provide $40.8 million for operational costs over the first five years, and $10.2 million annually after that.
  • $1 million per year ongoing, starting this year, to support engagement with Métis leaders and service providers on shelter provision and community-led violence prevention projects for Métis women, girls, and LGBTQ and two-spirit people.

Since the pandemic began, Trudeau has announced the $305 million Indigenous Community Support Fund, as well as $75 million to support Indigenous peoples living in urban areas and off-reserve.


10:30 am Ontario reports 344 new COVID-19 cases, 41 deaths

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario has increased by 344 – or 1.3 per cent – since yesterday. Provincial public health officials reported on Friday that Ontario’s total cases is now 27,210. Of those cases, 20,983 – or more than 77 per cent – are considered resolved.

Today’s increase is down slightly from yesterday’s 383 but up from the previous two days when the numbers fell below 300.

Another 41 people have died. The total number of deaths in the province is 2,230.

Like yesterday, the daily provincial testing goal of 16,000 was surpassed. There were 18,525 tests completed and another 13,351 cases are under investigation.


9:38 am TIFF still planning physical festival in September

Organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival still plan to hold in-person events during this September’s event, but “it’s definitely going to look different,” according executive director and co-head Joana Vicente.

Speaking during a panel at the We Are Here: A Global Film Festival on Thursday, Vicente said TIFF is also developing a digital platform.

“We’re developing, of course, as everyone else, a digital platform for the festival and at the same time we’re still planning to have some physical festival,” Vicente said during the panel, the Canadian Press reports.

“It’s definitely going to look different,” she added. “We’re trying to figure out how we can still deliver incredible experiences to our audience, and that’s really front and centre.”

We Are Here is a free digital film festival that starts today and runs to June 7. TIFF is co-curating films and panels, including Isaac Nabwana’s Ugandan action movie Crazy World, which was a favourite of last year’s Midnight Madness program.

TIFF is due to take place September 10-20. 

Toronto has cancelled event permits for large events and festivals through the end of August.


9:20 am Trinity Bellwoods Park gets physical distancing circles

The city started painting physical distancing circles on the grass in Trinity Bellwoods Park yesterday. The circles are around eight feet in diameter and 10 feet apart, large enough “for two adults laying down or three adults sitting cross-legged,” according to a news release.

The people hanging out within the circles should be from the same household, as per the city’s bylaw. If no circles are available, residents are being encouraged to find another park to hang out in or return at a later time.

Toronto is billing the initiative as a pilot project, and if successful in encouraging people to keep their distance when in parks the circles will be painted in other areas.

The project was inspired by similar circles in San Francisco and New York.

The city undertook the project after thousands of people crowded into the park last Saturday, sparking concerns of increased COVID-19 infections.


9 am Canada has more than 88,512 cases of COVID-19

There are 88,512 cases of COVID-19 in Canada and 6,877 people have died.

The outbreak is a serious public health threat though most people who contract the virus have not been hospitalized. 

Symptoms include cough, fever, difficulty breathing and pneumonia in both lungs and may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure. People age 65 and over and people with compromised immune systems and/or underlying medical conditions have a higher risk of contracting a severe case.

@nowtoronto