Torontonians who have COVID-19 and are at risk of infecting others at home may soon self-isolate in a free room with food, laundry and Wi-Fi for up to two weeks .
Toronto’s senior public health official, Dr. Eileen de Villa, is asking city council this week for permission to reach a deal with the federal government to fund a 140-room “isolation site” run by the city.
The program, modeled after that in New York and other cities, targets low-income people who are infected but, due to overcrowded living conditions and other factors, cannot guarantee that they will not transmit not the virus to others.
The city estimates it would cost $ 12.7 million to operate a 140-room facility for a year. Potential residents would be identified by Toronto public health staff and would only self-isolate if they are considered infectious – typically around 14 days.
Coun. Joe Cressy, president of Toronto Public Health, said Toronto was “very close” to securing federal funding. He called the project a great investment to prevent a second major wave of COVID-19.
No site has been confirmed. De Villa suggested it could be in the northwest corner of Toronto, a predominantly working-class area that has seen some of the highest infection rates.
But the transport provided by the city to the site and later to his home means he could be in another part of the city, Cressy said. People who are not infected but live nearby with someone who is would also be eligible for a stay.
“We’re at a turnkey time – as soon as the funds are finalized, and if the board gives permission, the staff can accept them and turn the key and open the facility,” Cressy said.
De Villa’s report cites a study that found COVID-19 spreads faster in households than other viruses, including SARS. Other research has found that people who find themselves in “institutional isolation” infect far fewer people than those who attempt to self-isolate at home.
Public health estimates that when new infections peaked in Toronto in April, 10 to 15 people a day would have been eligible to use a self-isolation site.
Cressy acknowledged that the site, if approved, could have empty rooms in a city with high numbers of homeless people. But the city needs rooms for “surge capacity,” he said, noting that Toronto has facilities to isolate sick homeless people.
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