Coronavirus: Refugee shelter in Toronto reports COVID-19 outbreak

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus around the world: April 12, 2020'
Coronavirus around the world: April 12, 2020
WATCH ABOVE: Many Hong Kong residents ignored the ban on gatherings and hit the beach during Easter weekend. Jasmine Pazzano has more on this story and other COVID-19 headlines. – Apr 12, 2020

A refugee shelter in downtown Toronto is reporting four cases of COVID-19, a problem the organization managing the facility said extends to other shelters in the city.

READ MORE: Ontario reports 401 new coronavirus cases, 21 deaths as total cases top 7,000

Homes First Society said it was first notified about the cases at Willowdale Welcome Centre on Thursday and the organization is waiting to hear back on multiple other tests. The facility currently houses more than 200 people.

“People are very frightened, these are things that don’t make us comfortable,” said Patricia Mueller, CEO of Homes First Society, which operates other shelters in Toronto for people who are homeless or struggling with addiction.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 cases at long-term care homes rising'
COVID-19 cases at long-term care homes rising

“This is all new ground for our staff in terms of trying to educate about physical distancing.”

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Mueller said staff have erected plexiglass shields at counters and have shuffled residents to different shelters to space out occupants, but it can be difficult to get people to take physical distancing rules seriously.

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She added that other shelters her organization manages have also seen COVID-19 cases.

In some of the organization’s shelters for people with addictions, she said staff can’t leave out hand sanitizer because residents will consume it.

READ MORE: Latest developments in the Greater Toronto Area on April 12

Mueller said staff and residents have all been given personal protective equipment like surgical masks, but she said the organization will likely run out of supplies in two or three weeks.

“We are, in the shelter sector, forgotten about when it comes to personal protective equipment,” said Mueller.

“We have had some donations and for that I’m eternally grateful, but we haven’t become the cause celebre of any movie star or any famous hockey player yet.”

Still, Mueller said she is not aware of any staff having walked out or refused work out of fear of the coronavirus.

And in the Montreal area, 31 residents at a long-term care home have died in less than a month after workers walked off the job there.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said workers and residents at shelters and care homes will be prioritized for COVID-19 screening as the province plans to increase testing to 8,000 per day by the coming week.

Ford has said the province plans to test 16,000 people per day by early May.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: ‘Zero tolerance’ for those who disobey physical distancing, Toronto police chief says

The province reported another 401 cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases to above 7,000.

Health officials also reported 21 more deaths for a new total of 274.

Meanwhile in Toronto, the municipal government said officers issued 48 tickets to people who weren’t following physical distancing guidelines on Sunday.

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The city announced on Saturday that officers would start immediately issuing tickets instead of trying to educate residents first.

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Toronto has been one of the hardest hit cities with over 2,225 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 and 85 people in intensive care.

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