City worker in parks, forestry and recreation tests positive for COVID-19

An employee in the city’s parks, forestry and recreation division has tested positive for COVID-19 and a number of staff members who may have had contact with the infected person have been advised to go into isolation, a union local says.

The employee worked at Falstaff Community Centre, near Jane Street and Wilson Avenue, according to Dave Mitchell, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79. The local represents about 20,000 city inside workers.

Mitchell said the employee received the positive test result on Sept. 11 and the union local was informed on Sept. 12. 

Some members have told the union local that they want more information about the case, he said. There is a larger group, outside of the employee’s close contacts, who were not informed of the case by Toronto Public Health (TPH), but found out through word of mouth, he added. 

Criticizing the city or its public health unit for any perceived lack of communication about the case, however, is not helpful, he said.

“It’s really important to me, as the local president, that I’m not overwhelming people with the same information and information that may be confusing shortly after delivered,” Mitchell said.

“The communication needs to be streamlined, if anything. I think everyone’s trying to do the best job. And I certainly feel for our members who hear this information secondhand. It must be frightening.” 

The city has not issued a news release about the case, but it did notify the public about two previous cases involving its parks, forestry and recreation division.

In July, there were two positive cases involving employees, one of whom had contact with a worker at a summer camp at Ellesmere Community Centre, and in August, there was one positive case involving a child attending a summer camp at the Barbara Frum Community Centre.

City said ‘deep cleaning’ conducted after case reported

On Sunday, the city said in an email that the parks, forestry and recreation division conducted a “deep cleaning” after the case was reported.

Toronto Public Health says it is working with the parks, forestry and recreation division to trace and notify contacts of the infected person. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

TPH said in an email on Sunday to CBC Toronto that it is working with the division to trace and notify contacts of the infected person. Close contacts of the infected person have been advised to go into isolation for 14 days.

Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health, confirmed the positive case but declined to say where the infected person worked.

“To protect people’s privacy and personal health information, we do not provide information that could identify an individual case or their close contacts,” Dubey said in the email.

“While we recognize the desire to have access to more information, we must balance the public health reason for the release of the information and the right to privacy by individual cases. Only if there is a broader potential health risk to the public would TPH issue a media release to notify residents.”

TPH says contact tracing begins immediately

When it is notified of a positive case in Toronto, TPH said it acts on information immediately. Staff members begin a detailed and careful investigation of each situation, Dubey said.

An investigator will interview the person who tested positive, determine where he or she might have gotten the infection and try to pinpoint to whom he or she could have spread the disease.

Tracing contacts includes contacting people who had interactions with the infected person while he or she was infectious.

When there are positive cases in local workplaces, including city divisions, Dubey said TPH works to ensure prevention measures are in place to prevent further virus spread.

These measures include: scheduling staggered shifts; screening before entering the workplace; physical barriers; physical distancing; and appropriate use of personal protective equipment, including masks.  

The public health unit said it works with the employer to trace contacts and assess the ongoing possible risk of transmission to staff, clients and members of the public.

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