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Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Eileen de Villa, seen here at a news conference on Jan. 27, 2020, told reporters she didn’t want to speculate about how the virus might have got into Jesse Ketchum Early Learning and Child Care Centre.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

An eight-month-old infant and four staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at one of the Toronto facilities set up to care for children of essential workers, an outbreak that forced dozens of children into quarantine and shut the site indefinitely.

City staff said the child had not been showing any symptoms when screened on the way into the facility. But the child’s parents later reported symptoms and were urged to get a test done. There was no word on the child’s condition.

Another child who had attended the facility was tested and found not to have the virus. The test result on one more staff member was still outstanding at the time of the city’s daily briefing on Wednesday.

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Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Eileen de Villa, told reporters she didn’t want to speculate about how the virus might have got into Jesse Ketchum Early Learning and Child Care Centre, which she described as having protocols similar to a health care facility.

“We need to let the investigation proceed … and then take action as necessary,” she said.

The city began notifying parents by phone as soon as the positive results became known Tuesday night, staff said. Fifty-eight children who had been at the facility between April 21-28 will be required to stay home for two weeks – complicating life for their parents, for whom the facilities were created so they could focus on their jobs during the pandemic.

The site will stay closed until it has been thoroughly cleaned and given the all-clear by public-health officials.

The city’s other six emergency child-care centres remain open. The city said each facility has been caring for an average of 28 children a day and, collectively, the facilities have assisted 216 families since opening at the end of March.

News of the outbreak came the same day Ontario expanded the list of essential workers who are eligible for free childcare – such as health care and other frontline workers – to include those who work in food-processing plants, grocery stores, pharmacies and retirement homes, as well as truckers and military personnel. Some 100 emergency child-care centres have reopened in the province, with another 37 expected in the coming days.

Premier Doug Ford said he has also called for increased testing at child-care centres. “I want to protect our children, that’s our No. 1 priority, make sure they’re safe,” he said.

Mayor John Tory said Wednesday he was confident the facility had been run properly but suggested changes may be needed.

“As part of the investigation I’ve asked that we determine exactly what happened here and how we can strengthen the already stringent procedures we have in place,” he said.

“I can assure the families relying on these child-care centres, and the people of Toronto, that the very highest standards were put in place from Day 1 to try to prevent this kind of outbreak, but obviously we have more to learn.”

With a report from Laura Stone

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