On January 4, 2021, Toronto Mayor John Tory and Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, announced additional measures for businesses to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within Toronto workplaces. New requirements include immediate notification of Toronto Public Health (TPH) when a business becomes aware of two or more people who test positive for COVID-19 in connection with workplace premises within a 14-day interval. Toronto businesses have also been instructed to implement additional measures related to infection prevention, and to ensure that all employees are aware of income replacement and workplace-related benefits they are entitled to if they need to isolate due to COVID-19.
In addition, TPH has launched new content on its monitoring dashboard to illustrate how COVID-19 is affecting workplace settings in Toronto. Effective January 7, 2021, information about workplace-related outbreaks will be provided on a weekly basis for workplace settings such as grocery stores, pharmacies, food processing sites, offices, warehousing, shipping and distribution, construction, and manufacturing.
Following this afternoon’s announcement, Mayor Tory and Dr. de Villa responded to questions from media.
On December 30th, the provincial government released an ethical framework for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The framework was developed in partnership with the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force. According to the ethical framework, vaccine distribution will be based on the principals of equity, fairness, transparency, legitimacy, and public trust, with an overall objective of minimizing harms while maximizing benefits.
Over the last week, the Ministry of Long-Term Care has approved several voluntary management contracts for long-term care homes experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. Contracts for enhanced support have been approved between North York General Hospital and Tendercare Living Centre (Scarborough), St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and Shalom Village Nursing Home (Hamilton), Niagara Health System and Oakwood Park Lodge (Niagara Falls), and University Health Network and St. George Care Community (Toronto). All voluntary management contracts will remain in effect for 90 days from the date of approval and may be extended if necessary.
On December 28th, the government announced the opening of a new Specialized Care Centre in the Greater Toronto Area. The Specialized Care Centre will operate as a temporary extension of Toronto Grace Health Centre, and will offer surge capacity for GTA long-term care homes managing outbreaks of COVID-19 or experiencing other challenges such as crowding and staff or supply shortages. When fully complete, the Specialized Care Centre will provide up to 90 spaces for residents.
TPH Announces New Measures for COVID-19 Workplace Safety
This afternoon, Mayor Tory and Dr. de Villa announced new requirements for Toronto businesses to reduce workplace spread of COVID-19. New measures apply to all Toronto businesses permitted to be open under the Reopening Ontario Act, with the exception of licenced child care programs, health care providers and entities, and schools and schools boards, including private schools. Each exempt sector is required to follow instructions included within provincial sector-specific legislation.
Effective immediately, all employers in Toronto are instructed to implement the following:
- Immediately notify TPH once an employer becomes aware of two or more people in connection with workplace premises who test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day interval. Employers must provide TPH with information for a designated contact person at the workplace and ensure that accurate contact information for all employees can be made available to TPH within 24 hours of a request to support contact tracing. Employers must also notify the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and cooperate with infection prevention and control personnel from TPH, including allowing entry to workplace premises.
- Additional infection prevention measures include:
- Providing hand sanitizer and hand-washing facilities in work and rest areas.
- Implementing rigorous and frequent environmental cleaning in high-touch areas and areas accessible to the public.
- Conducting a regular review of HVAC systems to ensure they are functioning well.
- Minimizing instances of more than one individual in a vehicle for driving associated with work. If unavoidable, face coverings must be worn in the vehicle and windows open.
- Ensuring that physical distancing of workers by at least two metres takes place throughout the workplace and during eating and rest periods. One-way walkways should be installed to reduce close physical interactions.
- Implementing physical barriers (e.g. plexiglass) when physical distancing is not possible.
- Ensure that all employees are aware of income replacement and workplace-related benefits they are entitled to if they are required to isolate due to COVID-19, to encourage forthright reporting of COVID-19 symptoms or contact.
In addition, TPH released new COVID-19 workplace outbreak data to illustrate how the pandemic is affecting workplace settings in Toronto.
Effective January 7, 2021, weekly information about workplace outbreaks will be published on TPH’s COVID-19 monitoring dashboard under the following categories:
- Bar, restaurant, nightclub and other entertainment venues.
- Event venues and religious facilities.
- Non-institutional medical health services including doctor’s offices, physiotherapy clinics, dental settings, and wellness clinics.
- Personal service settings including hair salons, tattoo parlours, nail salons, and spas.
- Recreational fitness facilities, group fitness classes, team sports, and related events.
- Retail settings including grocery stores, pharmacies, and malls.
- Food processing plants.
- Offices, warehouses, shipping and distribution, construction, and manufacturing settings.
- Other workplaces and community settings not captured in the above categories.
Criteria for disclosure of a workplace outbreak include sustained transmission of COVID-19 in a workplace; a significant proportion of staff involved in the outbreak; significant duration of an outbreak and where the workplace is large enough that the risk of privacy concerns is mitigated.
Following this afternoon’s announcement, Mayor Tory and Dr. de Villa responded to questions from media. When asked about enforcement, Dr. de Villa referenced the Health Protection Service Act, Section 22 and indicated that action could be taken where applicable. However, she expects that businesses will follow the measures in the requirements.
Dr. de Villa was asked about disclosing organizations that have outbreaks and privacy of personal health information. In response, Dr. de Villa noted to protect people’s health information, Public Health would only be reporting on workplaces that have approximately 20 people or more. This would ensure people’s privacy is not disclosed, particularly for small businesses that only have a handful of employees.
Ethical Framework for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution
Last week, Ontario released an ethical framework for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
The framework, which was developed in partnership with the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, outlines six ethical principles to guide the distribution and prioritization of COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario:
- Minimum harm and maximum benefit, to reduce overall illness and death related to COVID and protect those at greatest risk of serious illness.
- Equity in the distribution of vaccines without bias or discrimination.
- Fairness, to ensure that every individual within equally prioritized groups has the same opportunity to be vaccinated.
- Transparency, to ensure the principles and rationale, decision-making processes and plans for vaccine prioritization are clear and communicated to the public.
- Legitimacy, by making decisions based on the best available scientific evidence and input from affected parties.
- Public trust, to ensure decisions and decision-making processes advance confidence and trust in Ontario’s COVID-19 immunization program.