Ontario: Additional COVID-19 health and testing measures

05 October 2020

This article follows our recent update on new measures, including mandatory health screening measures introduced by the province of Ontario.

Ontario has announced stringent new health and safety protocols, including mandatory face covering rules for "indoor public spaces" and new COVID-19 testing measures, that will affect individuals and business across all regions.

The province has also announced guideline changes that relate to social circles, as well as targeted health and safety measures in Ottawa, Peel and Toronto, as a result of their higher-than-average rates of COVID-19 transmission.

Mandatory face covering rules

In an effort to avoid a return to full-scale restrictions and emergency measures, the province has amended Regulation 364/20 under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 ("ROA"), introducing significant new public health measures.

Effective Saturday October 3, 2020, the province requires business, facilities and workplaces in all regions of Ontario to mandate the use of face coverings in all "public indoor settings" across the province. There are limited exceptions to businesses affected by these requirements, including corrections facilities and developmental services.

It should be noted that municipalities may have more stringent mandatory face covering by-laws than the general requirements imposed by the province. Businesses are expected to comply with both applicable standards, whether municipal or provincial. In the event of conflict between the applicable laws, the standard that offers the greatest protection to employees, patrons, essential visitors, etc. will prevail. 

Targeted Measures for Ottawa and Peel Region

Effective October 3, 2020, targeted measures have been implemented in Ottawa, Peel, and Toronto due to their higher than average COVID-19 new case growth. These include:

  • Setting an indoor capacity limit to restrict occupancy at restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments (including nightclubs) to the number of patrons who can maintain a physical distance of at least 2 meters from every other patron, up to a maximum of 100 patrons, permitting no more than 6 patrons per table, requiring operators to ensure patrons lining up outside their establishment can maintain physical distancing, and mandating that the name and contact information for each patron be collected;
  • Restricting group exercise classes at gyms and other fitness settings to 10 individuals, as well as restricting the total number of people allowed at these facilities to a maximum of 50; and
  • Setting a limit on the number of people allowed at meeting and event facilities, including banquet halls, to six people per table and 50 people per facility.

It is noted again that municipalities can continue to adopt more stringent health and safety by-laws than the rules imposed by the province. Businesses must ensure compliance with both standards. Where the rules / by-laws conflict, the guideline that offers the greatest protection to employees and patrons alike must be adopted.

No more walk-in COVID-19 testing

Effective October 4, 2020, assessment centres have discontinued walk-in testing services, so that the province's lab network can make progress in processing tests. This change allows testing centres the necessary time to reset, deep clean, and ensure preparedness for the new model.

As of Tuesday, October 6, 2020, testing centres will move to appointment-based testing only.

The province has indicated that it will continue mobile testing and pop-up testing initiatives, to reach vulnerable populations that provide targeted testing (e.g. in long-term care, congregate care, and vulnerable populations).

The network of pharmacies where individuals with no symptoms within provincial testing guidance can get tested will also be expanding.

New guidance will be provided for the testing of children, to help parents determine when it is most appropriate for students, children and their families to seek a test for COVID-19.

Further re-openings paused

The province is extending the pause on any further reopening of businesses, facilities, and organizations for an additional 28 days, unless they are already permitted to open under O. Reg 364/20. For further guidance, refer to the province's website - A Framework for Reopening our Province: Stage 3.

Social circles paused

The province has advised that social circles need to be paused and is advising that all Ontarians allow close contact only with people living in their own household. Two meters physical distancing needs to be maintained from everyone else. Individuals who live alone may consider having close contact with another household.

The province has indicated that it will continue to closely monitor key public health indicators to advise if and when public health measures or restrictions should be adjusted.

For any questions you may have about workplace screening procedures, health and safety protocols, and other issues related to COVID-19, the Gowling WLG Employment, Labour & Equalities Group would be pleased to assist. To find out more about our Group, and how to contact a specific lawyer, click here.

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