The Thorncliffe Park community says it’s pushing back against COVID-19 and the “unfair” designation that they’re a coronavirus hotspot, after three schools were forced to temporarily shut down due to an outbreak.

“We are worried and anxious,” said Ahmed Hussein with community group The Neighbourhood Organization.

“We are worried people will think we are irresponsible, we are not taking precautions that need to be taken — but I can guarantee you, the community is working very hard to take every precaution and follow all the public health guidelines.”

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Toronto District School Board announced Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute would have to temporarily shut down Tuesday through to Friday, Dec. 18, after 14 students tested positive for COVID-19.

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Before that, Toronto Public Health closed Thorncliffe Park Public School after a slew of testing resulted in 19 positive COVID-19 cases.

Nearby Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy was also temporarily shut down after seeing seven confirmed coronavirus cases in the past week and a half.

Hussein argues that the high number of positive cases is also due to his community ’embracing’ COVID-19 testing with open arms, encouraging as many members of their neighbourhood to get tested as possible.

“The community actually consented the school children to be tested to make sure that everybody is safe,” he said.

“The community actually embraces the testing.”

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Thorncliffe Park has roughly double the testing completed when compared to its neighbouring regions at more than 32 tests per 1,000 residents for the week of Nov. 22, which is the latest data available on the Toronto Public Health website.

The neighbourhood’s testing positivity rate was at 10.6 per cent for that same week.

Hussein says many of the community members are new immigrants with low-income work that usually involves increased risk of catching the coronavirus.

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“A lot of our community members are essential service workers, so they’re in the food sector, transportation and health care,” he said.

“They have no option, they have no sick leave, they have no vacation, they have to go. If they don’t go, they don’t get paid.”

Hussein says community members have been pushing back against the stigma of their neighbourhood being labeled a COVID-19 ‘hotspot’ by the media and wanted to highlight how many of them have been working to help one another through the pandemic.

One example of that is a food bank run by The Neighbourhood Organization, which the group says has 800 families depend on for meals every week.

Volunteers who help at the food bank, located in the East York Town Centre, also go out of their way to help elderly community members.

“We have over 50 people who are taking food to the seniors at their door and buying medication for them,” said Hussein.

Another member of the community has been teaching new immigrants how to sew their own masks out of discarded fabric because she says they aren’t able to afford purchasing masks otherwise.

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“All the people don’t have jobs, they are not rich,” said Sediqa Nawrozian, who recently immigrated from Afghanistan, where she worked for women’s rights.

“They have economic problems or they don’t know how to go to the market because they are newcomers, there are language barriers and cultural barriers.”

She adds that The Neighbourhood Organization has also connected them with a buyer who’s purchasing any masks they make at a set cost.

“Now they’re very happy because they’re selling the masks and they’re earning money,” she said, smiling. “I am happy too now.”

Nada Albaradan is a Syrian refugee and a Grade 12 student at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute.

She said she finds the stigma around her community ‘unfair’ since she’s been working for years to try and make a positive impact in her neighbourhood, including teaching English to newly immigrated students at her school.

“I started to help other people because I have been through situations that I didn’t find to be any help, so it’s great to feel that you’re able to provide that help.”

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COVID-19 pandemic changes policies on ‘snow days’ for some GTA school boards

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