Toronto is nearing two very different COVID-19 milestones — 3,000 deaths suffered, and one million vaccine doses administered.
City officials on Wednesday announced plans to ramp up vaccinations, thanks to more expected supply, but acknowledged vaccine alone won’t stop the virus’s third wave from pushing the health system over the brink.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, announced 27 more Torontonians dead from COVID-19, bringing the total since March 2020 to 2,970. Wednesday also saw 1,302 new cases and 1,010 people in hospital, 194 of them in intensive care units and 128 of them on breathing machines.
“The figures for people currently in hospital, people currently in ICU and people currently intubated, are all the highest recorded at any point in the pandemic so far,” a sombre de Villa told the online briefing.
Noting the 3,000th death is expected any day, de Villa said: “I ask everyone to ask themselves if we should mark this loss off life in some way more than as a milestone … We must do everything we can right now to disrupt the spread of COVID-19.”
The only way to end the third wave, she said, is staying home, limiting contact with people outside your household and wearing a mask as much as possible. Vaccinations are vital, she said, but given the time they take to administer and become effective, they’re more about preventing future waves.
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Virus variants are filling ICUs and putting young, otherwise healthy people on life support, including an alarming number of pregnant women.
Mayor John Tory announced that almost 950,000 vaccine doses have been administered through all clinics, including people getting second doses. He said plans to speed up the rollout include:
- Launch of a “Team Toronto sprint strategy” to triple to 12,000 the number of weekly doses administered through mobile and pop-up clinics, all aimed at neighbourhoods identified as being hardest hit by COVID-19.
- Getting as many adults vaccinated in area codes starting with M9W, M9V, M9L, M9M, M9N, M6M, M3K, M3J, M3N, M3M, M4H, M1J and M1G.
- Increasing bookings at several city-run clinics in virus hot spots — Scarborough Town Centre, Malvern Community Recreation Centre, Carmine Stefano Community Centre, and The Hangar at Downsview Park — starting May 10, based on expected supply.
- Adding more than 231,000 vaccine appointments at the nine city-run clinics between May 10 and June 6.
Asked if the expected vaccine supply will let the city drop the age requirement for vaccination at the city clinics — currently 60 and up except for clinics in hot spots, where it is 50-plus, de Villa didn’t rule it out.
She noted the city relies on the provincial vaccination booking system, so the province must make any eligibility changes even if it’s just for Toronto.
Provincial officials are talking to local health units across Ontario, she said, on “how to adjust, and when to adjust, eligibility criteria, particularly in light of the fact that we’re anticipating a greater vaccine supply, hopefully within the next couple of weeks.”
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider
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