Mayor John Tory says the city is working with hospitals to bring COVID-19 vaccines to hot-spot neighbourhoods in Toronto.
These neighbourhoods are where essential workers and their families live, Tory told reporters at a city hall briefing on Wednesday.
The city has identified 111 neighbourhoods with a high incidence of COVID-19. The plan is to bring a combination of mobile and pop-up clinics to these areas for residents aged 18 and over to get vaccinated. The city will indicate where these neighbourhoods are by postal codes.
"The virus is real and the variants are raging right now," Tory said.
"Our public health officials have been clear that we must all focus our efforts on hot-spot neighbourhoods in our city and the easiest way for people to access a vaccination is by postal code," he said.
'We have to get shots in arms'
"We are working with hospitals and other health-care teams, and our own city teams, to operate more mobile and pop-up vaccine sites in hot spot neighbourhoods as soon as possible. We have to get shots in arms in areas where they are needed most."
Tory said the city is also launching a pilot program to bring vaccines to two essential workplaces in a bid to vaccinate front-line workers where they are employed. The city plans to vaccinate not only the workers but also people who live or work in surrounding areas.
The mayor added that, starting Friday, residents age 50 and older in high-risk areas as identified by postal code will be able to book vaccine appointments at city-run clinics. As well, three more city-run clinics will open next Monday, bringing the total number of clinics to nine.
Hot spots determined by infection, hospitalization rates
According to Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, hot-spot neighbourhoods were identified by the province using data that includes infection and hospitalization rates for COVID-19 and factors such as racialization, income and quality of housing.
She said the city is essentially widening access to immunization for high-risk neighbourhoods by bringing vaccines to them.
"Like many of you, I am waiting for my turn to be vaccinated," de Villa said.
"By including specific focus in our vaccination plan, we begin to create a new front line of immunized people who were most at risk of acquiring and spreading COVID-19, but whom, through their vaccination, now give COVID nowhere to go. This, in turn, creates a protective benefit for everyone," she added.
"If need be, our approach can be adapted again to reflect the circumstances of highest risk and need and to produce the greatest benefit to the largest number of people."
De Villa noted that neighbourhoods across the city have had "vastly different experiences" with COVID-19.
For example, one neighbourhood within a "hot spot" had a weekly incidence rate of 682 cases per 100,000 last week, she said. The city-wide incidence rate for the same time period, in contrast, was 196 cases per 100,000 people.
City officials provided an update on the pandemic in Toronto after Ontario announced another stay-at-home order and state of emergency to curb the spread of COVID-19. The stay-at-home order begins on Thursday.
City officials support stay-at-home order
Tory and de Villa said they welcome the decision, saying they have been calling for a stay-at-home order and tighter restrictions to bring daily case counts down.
"These decisions are difficult and require courage," Tory said.
The mayor said he appreciates that the province is trying to address "unfairness" that existed between big-box stores and smaller retailers. Under the stay-at-home order, non-essential retail stores will be allowed to continue curbside pick-up and big-box retailers will be limited as to what they can sell.
As well, Tory said he supports the decision to suspend residential evictions.
Toronto reports 1,173 new COVID-19 cases
Toronto confirmed 1,173 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, according to the city's COVID-19 tracker. There were 33 more hospital admissions, bringing the number of people with COVID-19 in hospital to 426. The city has 65 people in intensive care units, with 29 people on ventilators.
The city reported four more deaths. The number brings the city's COVID-19-related death toll to 2,831.
De Villa said the city has recorded nearly 7,000 new cases from last Thursday through to Wednesday, a number over seven days that "says more about the threat we face than anything I might describe."
Medical officer defends decision to shut schools
The news conference follows a decision by Toronto Public Health to close schools on Tuesday and de Villa defended that decision on Wednesday.
Toronto Public Health issued a Section 22 order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, requiring all elementary and secondary school students in Toronto to shift to remote learning until April 18.
"Our conclusion yesterday was that the circumstances no longer allowed for classroom learning, and so we took the decision after extensive consultation with the school boards and others," she said. "The spread in the community was being reflected in schools to an extent where we determined community spread would drive risk at schools higher and higher."
De Villa acknowledged that the decision gave "short notice" to parents but said her responsibility is to ensure the health and safety of Toronto's children.
Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, general manager of the office of emergency management, said the city will open its final three city-run mass vaccination clinics on Monday at 11 a.m. They are located at: Cloverdale Mall, 250 The East Mall; North Toronto Memorial Community Centre, 200 Eglinton Ave. W.; and Carmine Stefano Community Centre, 3100 Weston Rd.
The city said 636,718 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Toronto to date.