Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, taking leave of absence for medical treatment in the United States. The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2015.
“The federal government is now in crisis mode, because the public was never told,” Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, tells me in a conference room in a tower at the Toronto District School Board, one of the many buildings in the downtown where public health is conducted. When I meet Dr. de Villa for a story for the Globe and Mail, just before 10 in the evening, it’s already dark outside. “I’m very glad that I asked. I was trying to be proactive as the public health commissioner, and I felt like I needed to try to prepare people who could be impacted. I think that I did a pretty good job, but it was also a time when I couldn’t do anything else.”
Toronto is not the only place being forced to deal with a rapidly escalating outbreak of the COVID-19 disease, which has been linked to an outbreak at a Wuhan seafood market. Toronto has emerged with the largest number of cases, while other Canadian cities, like Montréal and Halifax, have so far not registered any known cases of local transmission. But more than 200 deaths — nearly 30 per cent of those confirmed in Canada — have been reported from Ontario, which has been the hardest-hit province.
“That’s a fact,” Dr. de Villa tells me. It’s hard to argue with that.
When Ontario health officials first revealed that it had seen three cases in a single day in mid-March — two travel-related and one local — they had no idea it was a coronavirus outbreak in its roots. They also had no idea that, as the virus spread over the following three weeks, the number of confirmed cases would reach more than 80 by the end of May and that