Toronto moves ahead with plan for 'gradual' return of employees as Peel's top doc calls for remote work to continue

The City of Toronto is moving ahead with plans to have some of its workers return to the office this week, even as public health officials in nearby Peel Region encourage residents to continue telecommuting as much as possible amid a Delta-driven fourth wave of the pandemic.

Mayor John Tory told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday that some of the approximately 10,000 City of Toronto employees that have been working at home since the beginning of the pandemic have begun to return to City Hall and other municipal buildings as part of a “phased” approach.

He said that the “safe and gradual” return officially got underway this week but will “ramp up in the next several weeks.”

“The safe return of our office staff to City Hall and other offices signals an important part of our city's recovery. More people out and about means more people supporting local businesses and restaurants and shops and supporting the local economy,” Tory said. “It is my hope that this announcement of our own approach to this done safely and done carefully will inspire other businesses to follow this example and do the same in a safe and responsible manner and help Toronto return to a more active and thriving city once again but safety does come first.”

Tory said that employees returning to City Hall and other buildings will be greeted by new capacity limits as well as “staggered and spaced workstations” to ensure physical distancing. He said that employees will also be expected to wear masks and participate in a daily screening program.

The announcement of a partial return to the office for City of Toronto staff comes on the heels of an earlier press conference in Brampton where Peel’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh suggested that residents should continue to work remotely if they can as part of reducing their contacts during the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Tory, however, told reporters that he doesn’t believe what the city is doing “is really any different from what Dr. Loh was saying.”

He said that the planned gradual return of employees to the workplace will be slow and cautious and can also easily be adjusted should conditions change.

“As I said it will be done to a workplace that has been modified to make sure it is safe and appropriate through disinfection and the reorganization of the workplace itself and it contemplates many, many workers still working sometimes from home or all the time from home in some cases,” he said. “So I think there probably couldn't be a more balanced approach to this.”

The Ontario Science Advisory Table has previously said that Ontarians must reduce their contacts from 83 per cent of pre-pandemic levels to roughly 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in order to avoid a surge in cases and hospitalizations that could overwhelm our health-care system once again.

During his briefing earlier on Wednesday, Loh cited that data in explaining the need for residents to continue to work remotely when they can. He also said that residents should be taken other measures to reduce their contacts, such as avoiding large gatherings and meeting with people virtually when possible.

“I know that we are all tired of this. But for now with so many residents still susceptible all of us must remain vigilant as we move through this turbulent final part of the acute phase, regardless of our vaccination status,” he said.