Toronto public health officer warns of rising flu cases

A medical officer of health with Toronto Public Health has raised concerns that flu cases are likely to rise.

“Toronto Public Health is expecting that it may become necessary to ask public health staff to remain at work while staffing levels are reduced,” said Dr. Brian D’Aoust in a statement Wednesday. “To support this possible need, it has begun notifications to those subject to the ‘downward health promotion mobility rule’ about temporary scheduling arrangements.”

He said people working in the health care sector are at a higher risk of spreading influenza, according to a number of recent studies, including a meta-analysis that found the flu was responsible for 15% of hospitalizations in 2016-17 and 30% in 2017-18, according to CNN.

The FSS was introduced in 2017 to limit movement between flu-affected areas within the city. In 2018, Toronto Public Health followed the lead of several U.S. states, and implemented it for all staff, eliminating their ability to work from home or to take an additional job.

The health department is hopeful the virus outbreak “will improve” over the coming months, but so far, there have been no reports of the virus in the thousands of people who sought treatment at local hospitals.

The department “has increased staff levels in response to the influx of patients presenting with the flu,” said Chris Allan, press secretary for Toronto Mayor John Tory. “There is still no evidence to suggest that the flu is circulating more than it has in the past.”

Although Toronto Public Health said that this is “the peak time of year for flu cases in the community,” D’Aoust added that no flu outbreak or strain of the flu is “imminent” in the city.

Toronto Public Health is aiming to have its staff back to work after employees complete their flu vaccinations. The city is planning to host clinics to provide flu vaccines, and is asking public schools to encourage students and staff to get their flu vaccines.

Toronto City Council voted Monday to allow teachers and other school workers at 18 public and independent schools — also known as “Omicron-Trinity schools” — to continue working in the primary grades.

The schools have been hit especially hard by a flu outbreak. More than 170 flu cases were confirmed at Omicron-Trinity schools from February 13 to the 24th, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Toronto District School Board. So far this season, 2,075 cases have been reported, and an additional 2,000 people have been affected by suspected flu at the schools.

Still, the situation has been better than in areas such as Prince Edward Island, where this year’s flu outbreak has reached epidemic levels. On Monday, in the province of PEI, 789 flu cases were confirmed, marking the first time the province has seen an epidemic.

A spokeswoman for Toronto Public Health said there were no isolated cases of the respiratory disease identified with residents.

“Toronto Public Health is grateful to the schools and businesses for their partnership during this very challenging time, and we are planning to work with these partners to continue to provide safe, reliable transportation to and from school while also minimizing delays at bus stops in the city’s parks and playgrounds. Since there are no isolated cases in Toronto, students and staff have no reason to stay home,” she said.

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