11 February 2021 Posted By : Joanna Lavoie

Dozens infected with COVID-19 in outbreak at Seaton House in Toronto

Toronto’s largest homeless shelter is in the midst of a significant COVID-19 outbreak.

According to the most recent Toronto Public Health (TPH) data from Feb. 2, there are 27 confirmed cases at Seaton House, which houses single men experiencing homelessness.

This number includes both residents and staff of the George Street shelter, which will soon be redeveloped as part of a new multi-purpose campus that will include an emergency shelter, transitional and affordable housing options, a long-term care home and a community service hub for both clients and people from the surrounding area.

In a statement provided to toronto.com, TPH said it does not separate shelter staff and client cases “due to the small numbers of staff cases.”

The City said it would not be releasing any further details about those impacted by this outbreak, which was first reported to TPH on Jan. 21.

“While we appreciate the desire for more information, we must balance the public health reason to release the information requested and the individual's right to the protection of personal health information and right to privacy,” Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vinita Dubey said.

In a follow-up email, the City said its Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) is working with TPH “on all protocols to manage the outbreak.”

At TPH’s recommendation, on-site COVID-19 testing was held at Seaton House in partnership with Ontario Health Toronto Region and hospital partners this week. This program remains in place at the shelter.

City spokesperson Kris Scheuer said a recent increase of COVID-19 outbreaks observed in Toronto’s homeless shelters is “not unexpected given the level of community transmission we are seeing,” adding SSHA is “proactively working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the shelter system and manage any outbreaks.”

She said SSHA has worked closely with TPH and community partners to “implement a comprehensive set of infection prevention and control measures in the shelter system,” including:

• Regular communications with homelessness sector partners to share the current status of the response and the latest guidance through regular webinars and a dedicated webpage on the City's website.

• Encouraging physical distancing in all shelter areas, including washrooms, and dining and common areas.

• Ensuring physical distancing of at least two metres laterally between beds in order to meet the City’s shelter standards directive, which is based on Ministry of Health guidance for congregate living settings during the pandemic.

• Ensuring the mandatory use of masks for staff throughout shifts and issuing a directive for mandatory masks or face coverings for clients in all common areas.

• Symptom screening at all points of entry into the shelter system and active daily screening and monitoring of all clients, staff and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms.

• Transporting clients with symptoms to provincial assessment sites for testing and working with Ontario Health Toronto Region and hospital partners to deliver on-site testing as recommended by TPH.

• Operating an isolation and recovery program with wrap-around health and harm reduction supports for clients who await test results or test positive.

• Increased infection control and prevention (IPAC) activities, including enhanced cleaning protocols at all shelter sites.

• Continued distribution of an average of approximately 100,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) weekly, including medical masks for use by staff. The City also provided $6.1 million in funding for PPE, IPAC and staff wages for partner agencies in 2020.

• Encouraging healthy habits such as handwashing and covering coughs or sneezing into an elbow or tissue.

• Conducting ongoing quality assurance site visits to all locations to confirm compliance with IPAC measures and provide direction for remediation where required.

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