COVID-19 outbreak at centre that answers 911 calls hasn’t disrupted service, city says

A COVID-19 outbreak among employees at a city call centre that dispatches emergency crews in response to 911 calls has not resulted in a disruption in service, officials said on Monday.

Eleven staff members at Toronto’s Central Ambulance Communications Centre are in quarantine, while 24 others have gone into isolation, according to Dineen Robinson, spokesperson for Toronto Paramedic Services.

“There has been no disruption in service delivery to the public as a result of COVID-19 cases in our communications centre,” Robinson said on Monday.

Robinson said the staff members in quarantine and in isolation are following instructions from Toronto Public Health.

She did not say how many staff members have tested positive, or how many have been exposed to coworkers who have tested positive, or when the workplace outbreak began.

According to an email sent to CBC Toronto, the infected workers are emergency medical dispatchers who answer the phone when people call 911 in Toronto.

Robinson said Toronto Paramedic Services has put “proactive measures” in place to protect staff and patients. 

These measures include what she called “best practice” infection and prevention control procedures, personal protective equipment, daily screening, and isolating staff members after they test positive or have been exposed to coworkers who have tested positive.

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg says: ‘There has been no interruption to any of those dispatch services, nor do I anticipate that.’ (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

At a city hall news briefing on Monday, Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said the operation of emergency dispatch centres for police, fire and paramedic services are “critically important essential services” and “form the very front-lines of emergency response” in the city.

“I can tell you I’m in regular contact with all three emergency services. Our occupational health and safety teams are fully engaged,” Pegg said. “There has been no interruption to any of those dispatch services nor do I anticipate that.”

City able to maintain staffing, official says

Gord McEachen, Toronto Paramedic Services chief, told reporters at the briefing that the centre has been able to ensure there is no gap in service.

“We have been able to maintain our service level. We have a flexible staffing model, which allows us to redeploy our staff from various shifts. We also have qualified staff in our education and training unit,” McEachen said.

“And as a further fallback, we also have qualified management team members that can step in to fill any staffing gaps.”

Last week, the city began offering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to paramedics. The immunization of paramedics is being rolled out with the help of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Humber River Hospital, and the University Health Network.

When asked if the city will begin to vaccine its emergency medical dispatchers, Pegg said the province determines who gets the vaccine and when people are getting immunized according to its priority lists.

“How that gets expanded and at what point it gets expanded beyond front-line paramedics is forthcoming at the direction of the province,” he said.

“I don’t know when that will happen. We will eagerly await that decision, which undoubtedly will be timed with the arrival of additional vaccine.”

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