Taxi drivers outraged after Toronto initially tells people to cab to COVID-19 testing sites
Mayor John Tory says the city will work with the taxi industry to develop proper policies and procedures around transporting people who may have COVID-19.
“We’re trying to develop a protocol that would happen as much more of a routine, that when for example, somebody were leaving an assessment center, having been there to get a test, that the taxi would be called and there would be a group of taxis that would be quite prepared in a number of different respects to expect to be taking people that had some possibility of having the virus or were actually confirmed to have it,” the mayor said at a news conference Friday.
“We’re working on that between the emergency operations center and the taxi company because the objective here has always been the same and it hasn’t changed; To ensure that people who need transportation to and from the assessment centers and hospitals get it, and at the same time the drivers providing the transportation, whoever they are but including in particular taxi drivers, are kept safe and healthy at all times.”
Tory’s remarks follow anger from the taxi industry over what they called a lack of communication around transportation for people who have or might have COVID-19.
“Disappointed doesn’t begin to express my feelings about it,” Beck Taxi spokesperson Kristine Hubbard told CP24 earlier Friday.
Hubbard said she found out yesterday that the city had been advising people needing tests to use a cab as one option. She said there was no communication with the taxi industry that people who might possibly have the virus were being advised to use their service. She said she found out that was the case after following up on a call from a customer.
“We had received a call from a customer actually who had said that she had tested positive. She had been in two taxis – on the way there and back the day before,” Hubbard said. “Thankfully she was very upfront and honest with the driver. She was wearing a mask and gloves. The driver was doing the same. They had the driver window open and the car was sanitized after, so we’re very thankful.
“But it seemed to me that it was not in line with what Toronto Public Health was saying, that if you have symptoms you shouldn’t leave the house.”
Hubbard said she called the city and initially was told that people were not being advised to use taxis.
“But when I pressed the issue I got a call yesterday afternoon saying that yes, in fact, if people want to get a test and they couldn’t drive themselves, they were not to take transit. They were to ask family and friends, which obviously would be a difficult question to ask, and otherwise take a taxi or ride hail.”
Tory told CP24 Friday morning that he understands the concern taxi drivers might have, but said the city doesn’t have a dedicated transport network for moving around people who might have the virus.
“I understand the concern of course which is that the cab driver is going to be, probably even with the passenger riding in the backseat, in close quarters with them and maybe less than six feet away from a person who might have tested positive. So I understand the concern,” Tory said.
“Obviously the logistics for us of having an entirely discreet transportation network to move passengers around when you in fact have thousands of people, hundreds in Toronto alone but probably getting upwards of thousands now being tested, is something that would be a considerable headache.”
Taxi companies and taxi drivers are dealing with the same challenges as every other business/worker. We needed explicit instructions that this was happening. Please inform members of the public who are going for tests to inform the provider. All we are asking for is transparency. https://t.co/A5EAlulgHg— Kristine Hubbard (@KristineHubbard) April 17, 2020
Hubbard said that cab drivers who are working right now want to help, but said it’s not right that they aren’t being advised of the risks that they’re taking. She said possible COVID-19 patients should be advised that they need to inform a cab or ride hail driver that they may have the virus so that proper protective measures can be taken.
She said her husband is a firefighter who understands the risks he faces when he goes into work and added that cab drivers should also be made aware of the risks they might face if they choose to keep working.
“I’m just so angry and sad that we’ve run into yet another brick wall when it comes to our collaboration with the city,” Hubbard said. “We have the infrastructure. He (the mayor) is absolutely right, and we’re here to do that work and to help in any way we can and I just think it’s the lack of transparency that is really disturbing right now.”
She pointed out that taxi drivers are also providing transportation to health care workers and immune-compromised patients, who feel they’re taking a safer option by using a cab.
Hubbard said she thinks those who may have the virus should be isolated to “a fleet of vehicles with people who are informed and willing to do that work.”
“The confusing part here is the lack of transparency,” she said. “People deserve to know. I understand what my husband’s risk is. He understands too as a frontline worker, as a firefighter in the city. These are people (taxi drivers) being sent into something frankly blindly and I can’t help but calling it anything other than a sacrifice.”
Dr. Eillen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health, addressed the issue at her daily news conference Friday.
“For anyone who is infected with COVID-19 and self-isolating, I will remind you, the only reason you should be leaving home is to go to a scheduled healthcare appointment or to hospital,” she said.
However she said health officials understand that there may be ocassional circumstances that require people with COVID-19 to leave their home.
“The idea is to do the best you can to prevent the spread of infection,” she said. “We recognize that people who have CVOID-19 infection, will from time-to-time need to go to a scheduled health care appointment or perhaps to visit hospital for non-urgent-type situations. Clearly, if they need urgent medical attention, then 911 is the best way to go.”
She agreed that people in those circumstances who need to use a cab should inform the company.
“People who need to take a taxi or car service in order to get to the hospital, assuming that there isn’t another method for them to get there, should inform the taxi or car service and do the best they can to prevent the spread of infection to somebody else,” she said.
She reiterated that the best option is for people who can do so is to drive themselves to hospital.
In a series of tweets Friday, Toronto Public Health apologized for “misinformation” around the use of taxis.
“For anyone who is in self-isolation, the only reason to leave home is to go to a healthcare appointment or hospital,” Toronto Public Health said. “We recommend driving yourself if possible, or arranging a ride with family or friend.
“If not possible, take a taxi or car service & ensure windows are open, sit in back seat & wear a mask, scarf, or face covering & record company name & license plate. If you need urgent medical attention, always call 911.”
Hi Kristine – we are sincerely sorry to hear of this misinformation. Dr. de Villa will address this at today's media briefing. For anyone who is in self-isolation, the only reason to leave home is to go to a healthcare appointment or hospital. We recommend driving yourself (1/2)— Toronto Public Health (@TOPublicHealth) April 17, 2020