Toronto publishes COVID-19 testing positivity data by neighbourhood

Toronto’s COVID-19 infection rates are “worryingly high,” though the reopening of schools does not appear to have been a significant contributor to the increase in cases, the city’s medical officer of health says.

“Our individual choices are adding up to a high price paid,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said at a news conference Monday.

Toronto reported 268 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, bringing its total to 24,624. While September’s new infections seemed to be connected to things like indoor dining and fitness areas, the city is now once-again seeing a rise in cases in long-term care.

One such example is Fudger House, located in the city’s downtown core, which is currently dealing with an outbreak. At present, there are 22 confirmed cases among residents and five among staff, head of emergency management Matthew Pegg told reporters. 

The news conference followed an earlier update by Toronto Public Health (TPH) that was presented to the city’s board of health, which included two new interactive maps: one showing per cent positivity rates by neighbourhood and another showing testing rates by neighbourhood.

Many neighbourhoods in the northwest part of Toronto continue to see relatively high per cent positivity and low testing rates for COVID-19, the city’s board of health heard Monday.

Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon however, de Villa advised caution in looking at percent positivity rates, saying those numbers “should not be used in isolation” and should be in put into a larger context by looking at things like case numbers and testing rates. 

In Rustic for example — an area bordered in the north by Highway 401, Lawrence Avenue in the south, Jane Street in the west and Keele Street in the east — between Sept. 25 and Oct. 15, public health officials saw a 14.2 per cent positivity rate. 

The current city-wide average is about 3.1 per cent positivity.

Further, an average of only 9.9 people per 1,000 were being tested in Rustic in the same time period, among the lowest anywhere in Toronto.

Sarah Collier, the manager of surveillance and epidemiology at TPH, said recent data suggests that more testing is needed in neighbourhoods throughout the northwest to better understand how the novel coronavirus is being treated in those areas.

The news comes after earlier this month, provincial health officials confirmed the veracity of figures obtained by the Toronto Star that showed some lower-income, racialized communities, particularly in the city’s northwest, were seeing infection rates of 11 per cent and higher.

Other communities, including Scarborough and downtown, were seeing their infection rates for the novel coronavirus hovering above seven per cent, the same data showed.

Ontario’s provincewide “high alert” positivity rate, which is used to set public health policy, is about 2.5 per cent. 

Toronto has consistently seen the most new daily cases of COVID-19 throughout the outbreak of the illness in Ontario, including 250 more today.

Since the outbreak began in late January, Toronto has had a COVID-19 infection rate of about 901 confirmed cases per 100,000 people, de Villa said at this morning’s board of health meeting.

The resurgence of the illness currently being experienced began shortly after Aug. 1, and was driven by cases in young people and also by outbreaks in some workplaces, particularly in the hospitality industry, she explained.

The reopening of publicly-funded schools in mid-September does not appear to be connected to the resurgence, de Villa said, and stricter public health measures put in place by TPH at the end of September, and further restrictions by the province that came into effect on Oct. 10, appear to having a positive impact on transmission of the virus in Toronto.

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