Dr. Eileen de Villa said that Toronto should brace for bad news in the new year, as the city reported more than 1,000 new confirmed daily cases of COVID-10 for the first time ever.
“It is now reasonable that we should brace for an extended period of potentially unsettling and discouraging numbers in terms of COVID-19 infections in Toronto,” Dr. de Villa told CTV News.
The City of Toronto reported a new record high of 1,069 new cases on Wednesday, December 30, 2021.
It was the fourth record high set for the month of December, and the data shows that infections are not confined to any single neighbourhood.
“The level of infection is such that every neighborhood in Toronto meets the province’s criteria for Red Zone designation,” Dr. de Villa told CTV News.
Dr. de Villa said that it’s too soon to say if gatherings during the Christmas break contributed to the increase in COVID-19 cases, but surveys conducted by Toronto Public Health said that 1 in 5 people who were infected had gathered in homes with people who were not part of their households.
“Our fear is these results in fact underestimate the degree to which people were mixing over the holidays,” Dr. de Villa told CTV News.
Hospitalizations were also on the rise in Toronto, with an increase of 55% in the 7 day rolling average.
Toronto Public Health will be introducing new public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces.
“These steps by Toronto Public Health, are meant to create as much distance and safety as possible while respecting many people need to work, and many businesses are rightly permitted to continue operations in order to provide the goods and services we all need in daily life,” Dr. de villa told CTV News.
“For all of us, we have no choice but to resolve to keep apart as much as possible to limit further spread at these levels, or at any level,” Dr. de Villa said. “It is possible, but it requires resolve, patience and belief. We can make the virus level decline.”
Dr. de Villa encouraged everyone to continue following public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Now is the time to focus on steps for our own self-protection and the protection of others because the risks around us are escalating,” Dr. de Villa told CTV News. “The next several months cannot be seen as just the stretch of time between vaccine trial results and needles in arms or a period just to be waited out until it’s our turn for the shot.”
Dr. de Villa said that the best way to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and bring the numbers down was to stay away from other people as much as possible.
“It isn’t impossible and it won’t be easy. We need to be clear on that as we enter the New Year,” Dr. de Villa said. “However, it can be done and we can do it. It isn’t a question of if we can. But we have to earn this one.”
ABOUT DR. EILEEN DE VILLA
Filipinos are one of the fastest growing communities in Canada. You’ll find Filipinos engaged in every field of human endeavour imaginable. There are now communities in every province and territory in Canada, with the largest in the province of Ontario. Ontario’s capital, Toronto is home to the largest Filipino community in Canada. And the person in charge of keeping Canada’s most populous city safe during the COVID-19 pandemic is Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa.
MEET THE FILIPINO DOCTOR IN CHARGE OF TORONTO PUBLIC HEALTH
We’ve met Dr. de Villa at different Filipino community events across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) over the past several years, before the pandemic. Even when we were first introduced, she struck us as a soft-spoken, elegant and very intelligent lady.
We were very proud when we heard that she got the job of taking care of the City of Toronto’s well being as Chief Medical Officer of Health. Even before the pandemic hit, we always thought of that job as a particularly difficult one, but we could not have thought of a better person from the community for the job.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health isn’t exactly the most glamorous job. There weren’t too many opportunities for Dr. de Villa to get in front of the camera.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada, then everything changed. Suddenly, Chief Medical Officers of Health all across the country were thrust in front of cameras, giving updates for their respective jurisdictions.
Dr. de Villa, and her counterparts all across Canada, became overnight stars thanks to COVID-19.
IMMIGRATING TO CANADA FROM THE PHILIPPINES DURING MARTIAL LAW
The 51 year old de Villa was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the second child of Filipino physicians. Growing up in Manila, she was always reminded by her parents how blessed they were.
At the height of Martial Law, de Villa’s parents decided to move to Canada, landing in Toronto, Ontario in 1975.
Her family’s immigrant experience was no different from the tens of thousands of Filipinos who have arrived in Canada since. They first settled in an apartment building in the High Park neighbourhood of Toronto, where she made friends with the children of other newly arrived immigrant families from countries like South Korea, Guatemala and Japan.
Things were challenging at the beginning for de Villa’s parents while they waited to have their credentials assessed, but de Villa’s father eventually got a job working as an ob-gyn at Wellesley Hospital.
When things got a bit more stable, her family was able to buy their first home in Etobicoke.
A FAMILY OF FIRSTS
The Filipino community in Canada was very small in the 1970s, with most Filipinos more inclined to move to the United States instead.
This allowed pioneering families like Dr. de Villa’s the opportunity to blaze the trail for other members of the community to follow.
De Villa’s late father, Dr. Guillermo de Villa, was the only Filipino ob-gyn in the city. He helped deliver an entire generation of Filipino babies in his delivery room at Wellesley Hospital. De Villa spent a lot of time with nurses at the hospital while her far was at work.
Her mother, Dr. Nenette de Villa, was the first female cardiologist at St. Joseph’s Health Centre.
De Villa went to Havergal, where she was involved in extra curricular activities like sports (tennis and volleyball) and the Political Affairs Club.
De Villa shared stories of her growing up as an immigrant teen with Toronto Life, sharing how she would borrow her dad’s car to drive her friends from Etobicoke to Toronto to grab a bite at the Bloor St. Diner before hanging out at a local nightclub called Nuts and Bolts.
The nightclub is long gone, but de Villa still has the chance to visit the site everyday, as the location is now the head offices of Toronto Public Health.
NOT HER FIRST RODEO
This isn’t de Villa’s first exposure to talking to the public during times of emergencies.
During the 2003 SARS outbreak, de Villa did her residency with Toronto Public Health, which was being led at the time by Dr. Sheela Basrur. Basrur did back then what de Villa is doing now, providing almost daily updates to the public health situation in a calm and collected manner.
De Villa admired Basrur for her professional demeanour during these televised press conferences.
“It was all about her communication style. She was the model for me as a young woman and as a person of colour. She looked different than everybody else,” she told Toronto Life. “There are lots of articles now about public health women, but it wasn’t always like that.”
Basrur died in 2008, but before she passed, she sent de Villa a card telling her that she had a bright future ahead of her. De Villa keeps the card on her desk at Toronto Public Health.
DELICATE BALANCING ACT
Chief Medical Officers of Health don’t have the authority to issue public health orders, that is actually under the jurisdiction of the provincial and territorial governments. De Villa, like her counterparts across Canada, has had to balance working with politicians and doing her job as a doctor. Not an easy proposition even under the best of conditions.
Still, de Villa has maintained her composure all throughout the pandemic, only breaking down on television once to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice her colleagues at Toronto Public Health were doing.
De Villa believes that communication is the key in getting through the pandemic together.
“I’m not sure berating people gets the kind of action you want. It’s all about communication. People are more likely to do the right thing if they know why,” she told Toronto Life.
JOIN THE EILEEN DE VILLA FAN CLUB
While many have opinions about public health measures undertaken to curb the spread of COVID-19, de Villa also has her supporters, including Toronto Raptors‘ Serge Ibaka, who made a video with her to drive the importance of staying home and maintaining physical distancing when outside in public.
As Canada faces the second wave of COVID-19, let us be thankful for the hard work that people like Dr. Eileen de Villa are doing on our behalf. When this is all over, let’s all take a moment to say thank you, and give Dr. Eileen de Villa a medal for keeping us all calm and safe from COVID-19.
PHOTO: CATHERINE HOLLAND
SOURCE: TORONTO LIFE
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