The City of Toronto and Peel Region have both announced sweeping new measures to help battle the third wave of COVID-19 in essential workplaces.
Both regions have now issued orders that will force any business with five or more cases of the virus in the last 14 days to temporarily shut down.
The updated Section 22 order directs those businesses to close for at least 10 days until it is deemed they can safely reopen.
Any affected employees must self-isolate and are not allowed to work at any other workplace until they recover from the virus.
“We are doing everything we can as a City government to help essential workers facing the third wave of this virus,” says Mayor John Tory.
“This Section 22 order is meant to help slam the brakes on workplace outbreaks that we know are moving much faster due to the variants of concern.”
The City of Toronto says certain workplaces, such as health care facilities, schools, child care centres, and workplaces providing critical services may be exempt from full closure requirements.
Toronto announced the new measures on Tuesday following an early morning announcement from Peel Region. The two public health units worked together to develop the orders.
The city’s top doctor says the order is a necessary step now that the majority of cases are variant of concern which have led to faster spread.
“This order will support Toronto Public Health’s investigators to help workplaces immediately reduce the risk of spread and manage workplace outbreaks quickly,” says Dr. Eileen de Villa.
The release from Peel Public Health says the new order will affect businesses in situations where the cases in question could have “reasonably been acquired” at the workplace, or if no “obvious source of infection” can be traced outside of the workplace.
The order will be in effect as long as Peel remains in shutdown or the Grey-Lockdown zone of the provincial framework.
The release from Peel Public Health says the new measures are needed to quickly stop the spread, protect the healthcare system and save lives.
Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie says she agrees that the order is necessary to curb the spread.
“I realize this will be very difficult for employers and employees,” says Crombie in a statement.
“I firmly believe this is a necessary step to halt the rampant spread of this virus in Mississauga and in all of Peel Region.”
The region’s chief medical officer of health says that workplace settings continue to be a key driver of the spread during the third wave of the pandemic.
“The most important thing to highlight is with the variant spread that we are seeing right now, we are seeing spread in these workplaces more widely and more quickly,” says Dr. Lawrence Loh.
Peel Public Health say a list of affected businesses will be published on their website and removed once they are able to safely reopen. The list will be published this week once the first affected businesses have been notified.
Loh says workplaces that meet the criteria will start getting direction to close by the end of this week.
He says that 25 per cent of the workplace spread in Peel is a direct result of employees coming to work sick because they are afraid to take time off.
“The analysis we did earlier on this year showed that one in four cases had actually showed up symptomatic at work,” says Loh.
Peel has seen 402 workplace outbreaks since the start of the pandemic.
In the absence of legislated paid sick days, health officials in the Peel are recommending employers provide paid leave to any workers who may be impacted by the new order.
Health experts and advocates have been calling on the government to bring in paid sick days and shut down non-essential workplaces for weeks, saying the measures could help the province fight soaring COVID-19 cases that are threatening to overwhelm the health-care system.
The provincial government recently rejected Opposition motions on both issues.
“We need a program that does not disrupt a worker’s wage and is sufficient enough for people to still pay their rent and put food on the table,” says Crombie.
Tory is urging “all employers to follow the public health advice to stop outbreaks and protect their employees including against the financial consequences of illness.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who had presented the motions on paid-sick leave and the closure of non-essential workplaces, said Ford’s government was failing the province.
“ICUs are overrun, and people with COVID-19 are laying in hospital hallways in agony. More people will get sick, and many will die if we don’t put powerful public health measures in place right away,” she said.
The province recently reduced capacity to only 25 per cent for big box stores and limited them strictly to in-person retail for sales of groceries, household cleaning supplies, pharmacy items (including pharmaceutical, health care, and personal care items, and pet care supplies) only.