The need is there. Toronto’s COVID isolation hotel should be full

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When Toronto opened an isolation hotel three months ago, the city’s medical officer of health called it “a critical part” of the city’s plan to deal with Wave 2.

It was designed to help people with COVID-19 who live in inadequate or cramped housing self-isolate while protecting their families and reducing the spread of the community.

It’s a good idea. But it does no good to anyone sitting almost empty.

There is room for 300 to 420 people per month at the Toronto Voluntary Isolation Center. Yet, as the Star’s Kate Allen reports, only 150 people in total have stayed there since it opened in mid-September.

It makes absolutely no sense.

Either Toronto doesn’t really need this hotel. Or he needs it but hasn’t figured out how to use it properly.

Given the growing number of new COVID cases and the tragic fact that marginalized and low-income areas of the city are by far the hardest hit, it would appear to be the latter.

Certainly, so far, this is a woefully inefficient use of the $ 14 million the federal government has invested to manage the isolation center in an unoccupied hotel on the outskirts of town.

The fact that the Toronto Public Health Department does not seem alarmed by the facility’s underutilization only makes matters worse.

“We are satisfied with the number of people who have accessed the isolation center,” said a spokesperson. “We don’t necessarily view the number of users as the only marker of success. “

It might not be the only metric, but it really should be the first.

If you can’t get people in need through, it’s not so much a lonely hotel as it is some expensive, state-funded empty rooms. It is doubly scandalous in a city in a homeless crisis.

The need for an isolated hotel is obvious.

According to the Ontario Science Advisory Board, the areas of Toronto with the highest proportion of inadequate and overcrowded housing are experiencing the fastest growing cases of COVID.

Lockdown restrictions have little effect as these neighborhoods are also home to many low-paid essential workers who cannot work from home and feel pressured to go to work even when they are sick – a truly terrible combination in one. pandemic.

To its (belated) credit, Toronto launched an awareness program two weeks ago to expand mobile testing in hard-hit areas of the city. He’s partnered with community organizations to help people access federal revenue and sick leave – and help them get to the city’s isolation hotel.

We can only hope that these agencies will be able to reach those who need support during a pandemic, but do not always access it, to help themselves and reduce the spread of the community. It is already months behind.

Beyond that, the city must adjust its criteria for accessing the isolation hotel. Currently, only public health contact tracing staff can refer someone to the center. But we know these calls don’t reach everyone, and they certainly aren’t reaching most people quickly enough to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The city should listen to health experts who say people with symptoms and a history of exposure should be able to go directly to the isolation center from a COVID testing site, rather than going home and potentially passing the virus on to their families while waiting for a phone. call.

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We have heard a lot about provincial failures in testing and traceability. This is a failure of the municipal government to deliver a promised service that is so clearly needed.

Toronto rightly saw the “critical” need for an isolation center to help stem the spread of the virus months ago. It is high time to make it work properly.

These rooms should be full.

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