TORONTO -- Toronto is launching an enhanced COVID-19 response program targeting some of the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods.

Mayor John Tory announced the program during the city’s COVID-19 update Monday as the Toronto came under a provincially mandated lockdown to try curb the spread of the disease.

“We can't stop the spread of COVID-19 in some parts of our city while it rages like wildfire in other parts of the city and we owe it to the most vulnerable to make sure that extra measures are provided, extra supports are provided in their fight against COVID-19,” Tory said. “We have to fight this virus everywhere, and we have to stop it everywhere.”

Data collected by Toronto Public Health have shown that case numbers and positivity rates are higher in certain areas of the city while testing rates are lower, particularly in the northwest corner of the city and northeast Scarborough.

Tory said the data show that the virus is having a disproportionate impact on people who are Indigenous, Black or racialized, precariously employed, live on low income, live in multi-generational housing, or who experience challenges taking time from work when ill.

“We are ramping up our support plan to fix this, in partnership with 11 highly trusted community based partners,” Tory said. “The city is immediately launching an urgent set of initiatives in targeted neighborhoods to increase supports and testing for residents in COVID-19 hotspots.

“This is an all hands on deck effort. Every part of the city government that we can mobilize is involved.”

Those measures will include a broader sharing of public health information, improving access to COVID-19 testing, as well as “critical supports” to those who test positive, and to their families in order to address testing hesitancy.  

Tory said the city is working on expanding the number of provincial testing sites, using buses for more mobile testing, and providing more transportation to testing sites with expanded hours.

The city is also continuing to lobby higher levels of government to continue or implement further supports to help those who are most vulnerable.

In particular, Tory said the city is renewing a request for the province to continue a ban on residential evictions during the pandemic.

Another major problem affecting some parts of the city is hesitation to get tested for fear that a positive test will mean loss pf income.

“Right now, people in the City of Toronto are waking up with COVID-19 symptoms, going to work, and giving the virus to their coworkers. Why, because they fear losing their jobs and or their paycheck, and they feel compelled to continue working without getting tested so they can put food on the table,” Tory said.

Tory said current federal and provincial supports for workers who have to take time off to isolate are either inadequate or net well understood. He said he has raised the matter with federal and provincial ministers but in the meantime is calling on employers to “do the right thing” by supporting workers who have to take time off to isolate because they have tested positive or have symptoms.

Following Tory, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa reiterated that many frontline workers are relying on those who can stay home as much as possible to do so.

“We owe it to them, those of us who can choose to keep apart more than others. We owe it to them to choose wisely and in ways that limit the risk for those who don't have the choice to keep apart, and who may be at an even greater risk of getting sick because of it,” de Villa said. “This is truer for some communities in Toronto than others.”

De Villa said she remains “very worried” about where the city is going in terms of its progress in fighting the pandemic and urged people to reduce unnecessary trips and interactions in order to do their part.

“I urge you to act with the care and caution that we all showed last spring,” she said. “As I've said many times, with each choice we are able to make, we can lessen the likelihood of worse infection rates and soften the blow of what is yet to come.”

She said the possibility of allowing gatherings at Christmas and other events into next year depend on how well the city does in containing the spread of the virus during the current lockdown.