U of T administration is currently working on plans in response to COVID-19. Though the virus has not been declared a pandemic, U of T’s current pandemic communicable disease plan and response contains no specifics on how the university will respond, instead deferring to administration at the time of an outbreak. The university also has a crisis framework in place that may be enacted in the case of a severe outbreak.
The current outbreak is a newly identified strain of the existing family of viruses under the name coronavirus, which originates in animals and typically causes respiratory illness in humans.
Currently, U of T’s plan for responding to pandemic communicable diseases states, “Specific information about a communicable disease will be provided at the time of a pandemic,” with the addition that it will provide information from city and provincial health services at the time of an outbreak.
According to a university spokesperson, U of T has established a group of senior administrators to coordinate the university’s response to the COVID-19, in accordance with this policy.
Plans for COVID-19 will be developed within faculties and campuses, meaning that there will not be one plan for the university as a whole, wrote the spokesperson in an email to The Varsity.
The group includes leaders who responded to the 2003 outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, which is another strain of coronavirus. The SARS virus killed 44 people in Toronto and infected 375 in 2003. The city as a whole was unprepared for the virus, especially since it initially appeared to be similar to the common cold. Students at the time were pulled from placements in medical facilities, and those at risk of getting infected were quarantined. As of publication time, there are 60 cases in Canada, with 29 in Ontario.
U of T also has a crisis framework that can be used in case of a severe outbreak. In this case, a crisis is defined as “an unpredictable and serious incident that involves novel circumstances, as well as a significant impact on University operations and actual harm to persons,” and prioritizes safety and continuity of programs.
Toronto Public Health is currently monitoring 13 positive cases of COVID-19 in the city. It notes that anyone who travelled from Iran, or the Hubei province in China within the last two weeks, or who has been in close contact with anyone found to be positive for COVID-19, should self-isolate.