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Dr. Lawrence Loh, Medical Officer of Health, Peel Region

Toronto, Peel Region implement powers to close workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks

Tuesday, April 20, 2021 @ 4:09 PM | By John Schofield

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 21, 2021 @ 9:22 AM

Two of Ontario’s largest public health regions are taking action to close workplaces that have had five or more COVID-19 cases in the previous 14 days, pre-empting what numerous doctors have been calling on the province to do.

Toronto and Peel Region both announced April 20 that they will issue the closure orders under s. 22 of the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act, shutting workplaces for a minimum of 10 days. During the closures, workers will be required to self-isolate, according to a City of Toronto news release, but workplaces deemed to be providing critical services, such as health-care facilities, schools or child-care centres, may be exempted from full closure requirements.

Toronto Public Health and Peel Public Health worked together to develop the order, according to the news release. In Toronto, the s. 22 order will be issued by April 23, said the city news release.

A Region of Peel news release stated that the s. 22 order was issued April 20, taking effect immediately, and that affected workplaces will be required to close the day after they are notified. The closure policy will be in effect for as long as the Peel Public Health region is placed in the Shutdown or Grey-Lockdown level of public health restrictions under the province’s COVID-19 response framework, said the release.

 Peel Region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh

Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region’s medical officer of health

“Workplaces that remain open continue to be a major driver of COVID-19 cases in Peel, as they have been throughout the course of our emergency response,” Peel Region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh, said in the release. “With variant spread, we are also seeing transmission occur more quickly and widely.

“In the absence of legislated paid sick days,” he added, “we also call on all employers impacted by expedited closure to provide paid leave for all employees impacted by COVID-19 or these new safety measures, and to consider moving as many operations as possible virtually to reduce risk.”

Toronto Public Health urged employers that are still open to review their operations to make sure everyone who can work remotely is doing so and to implement a safety plan, including daily COVID-19 screening, physical distancing between employees and immediate reporting of more than two cases in the workplace.

 Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto medical officer of health

“Workplaces that are open provide an opportunity for COVID-19 to spread,” said Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa. “Given that the majority of our cases are now as a result of variants of concern, which transmit faster, this order will support Toronto Public Health’s investigators to help workplaces immediately reduce the risk of spread and manage workplace outbreaks quickly.”

Meanwhile, according to news reports, Ottawa’s board of health called on the provincial government April 19 to reduce the list of businesses allowed to open during Ontario’s current state of emergency and to give police and bylaw enforcement officers more power to close businesses that are violating COVID-19 safety protocols. The city’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, reportedly said during the April 19 board of health meeting that Ottawa Public Health has been “inundated” with calls about workplace outbreaks.

In a statement released April 20, Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table recommended six measures to fight the surging number of COVID-19 variant cases, including only allowing “truly essential” indoor businesses to open, paying essential workers to stay home when they are sick, exposed or need time to get vaccinated, accelerating the vaccination of essential workers and those who live in hot spots, and limiting overall mobility.

“There is no tradeoff between economic, social and health priorities in the midst of a pandemic that is out of control,” said the statement. “The fastest way back to work — and to all the other things that make life in Ontario great — is to get this disease under control as quickly as we can, together.”

NDP Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath echoed that advice, calling again on the government of Premier Doug Ford to temporarily close workplaces that aren’t truly essential and to financially support impacted businesses and workers with, among other things, paid sick days and paid time off to get their vaccine.

“ICUs are overflowing and COVID patients are being cared for in waiting rooms and crowded hospital hallways,” she said in an April 20 news release. “Now we have no choice — we have to ask non-essential businesses to pause in order to save the lives of workers, their families, and the community around them.”

But the Ottawa-based industry organization Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) expressed concern about the potential impact of factory and warehouse closures in Peel Region and Toronto and called on the province to intervene to ensure a “co-ordinated plan” for manufacturers across the province.

“Although we recognize that the situation is critical right now, this unilateral decision could have a catastrophic impact on Ontario’s manufacturing sector,” CME president and CEO Dennis Darby said in an April 20 statement. “It is troubling to see politicians taking actions that are not based on science and that could endanger our food, PPE and drug supply, in addition to undermining global supply chains of some of Canada’s most important economic contributors like automotive and aerospace.”

On April 20, Ontario reported 22 virus-related deaths and 3,469 new cases, a significant drop from 4,447 cases announced on April 19. The seven-day rolling average, however, stood at 4,319, up from 3,868 the previous week. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care reached 773, with 537 of those on a ventilator. Hospitals and public health units reported that 2,528 people are hospitalized due to the virus in Ontario, up from 2,202 the previous day.

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