The province is expected to make an announcement Wednesday afternoon about new provincial guidelines, which some sources have said might include a more expedient expansion of the booster program, possible closures of large sports and concert venues, and limiting indoor gatherings, leaving people to wonder if the holidays will look similar to 2020.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore is recommending a province-wide approach to tackling Omicron. Moore says a regional approach to public health restrictions has so far been effective in dealing with Delta, but that consistency across Ontario is crucial to curb the spread of Omicron.
The science table found that new cases of the variant are doubling roughly every two days, Omicron now accounting for 53 per cent of COVID cases. In comparison, Delta’s doubling time is 37 days. Omicron’s effective reproduction number — 4.55 — is roughly four times Delta’s, meaning each person who gets infected with the variant will on average spread it to four others.
The province’s science table released data on Omicron on Monday warning that the public should brace for high numbers of infections as the variant is spreading at a rate we haven’t seen so far in the pandemic. Anthony Dale, CEO and President of the Ontario Hospital Association, says hospitals are moving to reactivate mass vaccination clinics amid the rise of Omicron cases, saying “this is truly a race against time.”
The Star reached out to the 34 public health units in Ontario to compile any health restrictions or advisories that have been put in place in light of the spread of Omicron.
Here’s what we learned:
Algoma Public Health has issued measures to lower social gathering limits, increase masking and physical distancing requirements as well as restrict high risk, close contact activities effective Nov. 29, effective until Dec. 28.
The restrictions include limiting the number of people at social gatherings and at organized public events to a maximum number of 10 people indoors, and 25 people outdoors. The health measures also require businesses and organizations in Sault Ste. Marie to put in strengthened masking and physical distancing requirements, like mandatory masking at all times if coworkers share a room or workspace, unless separated by a barrier or Plexiglas.
The region is also prohibiting certain high-risk close contact activities, such as team sports or personal care services that require the removal of a mask. Schools in Sault Ste. Marie are being asked to suspend all extracurricular activities for the next 28 days, “unless they are activities where participants can be both masked and physically distanced at all times.” The local public health unit also recommends that “school boards with schools that are close to Sault Ste. Marie or close to other regions of high COVID-19 transmission” may also choose to implement the suspension of all extracurricular activities for the next 28 days.
The Chatham Kent Public Health issued a “Letter of Instruction” from its medical officer of health, that effective from Dec. 10, indoor social gatherings will be reduced to a limit of 10 people, but doesn’t apply to weddings, religious ceremonies, funerals or long-term-care homes. In order to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in workplaces, recommendations also include moving to remote work whenever possible, reducing the number of people in the workplace, switching to virtual meetings, and staggering lunches or breaks.
Durham public health announced new policies effective Dec. 20 requiring proof of vaccination or a valid medical exemption for anyone 12 and older attending an indoor area of a sports facility, whether they are volunteering, coaching, teaching, instructing or officiating sports or recreational activities. This also extends to children 12-17 who are participating in an organized sport.
For children born in 2010 (who are turning 12 by Dec. 31, 2022), they will be given a grace period of 12 weeks after their birthday, when they will then need to provide personal identification and proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or a valid medical exemption for any entry following that grace period.
Grey Bruce Public Health’s medical officer of health, Dr. Ian Arra is encouraging all employers in the region, in accordance with provincial recommendations, to allow staff to work from home whenever possible. Other recommendations include precautions for workers to stay home if sick and requiring all staff to screen for COVID-19 prior to their shift as well as for businesses to continue screening their customers.
City of Hamilton
Hamilton Public Health Services is recommending enhanced health and safety measures for local schools to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, effective Dec. 15. The public health unit recommends re-implementing in-school daily screening, postponing or cancelling in-person staff meetings and work holiday events and all elementary aged students to stay within their respective cohort at recess for the duration of this week.
And for reopening schools for January 2022, the region urges school boards to plan for a continuation of daily screening validation beyond the first two weeks of school and participation in high-contact extracurriculars to be limited to fully vaccinated students only.
On Dec. 9, Huron Perth Public issued a letter calling for a community effort to help curb the rise of COVID-19 cases as people plan to gather for the holidays.
The joint statement issued along with Southwestern Public Health and Middlesex-London Health Unit, says the letter “does not add restrictions or gathering limits for businesses, restaurants or other establishments to those already put in place by the provincial government.”
The public health units are asking everyone in the region to limit indoor social gatherings to 10 people, and suggests everyone 12 years of age and older should be vaccinated. All unvaccinated individuals 12 years of age and older should avoid any non-essential indoor contact with people outside of their household and, where possible, individuals should be allowed to work remotely.
Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL & A)
As of Monday, Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health has issued restrictions that will remain in place until Dec. 20 for the Kingston area. All businesses that serve food will be closed to the public for indoor dining from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and move to pick up and take out during those hours. Consumption of alcohol will be prohibited between 10 p.m. to 12 p.m., but allowed between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m. Businesses cannot seat more than four people at a table. The region is also restricting dancing, singing, or live performances of music for the time being. The restrictions for the Kingston area also include hosting or attending indoor or outdoor social gatherings or an organized public event with no more than five people.
The Kingston area is already struggling to contain the new variant of concern which is making its way through the city. The local public health unit’s new public restrictions are now among the toughest in the province.
Similar to Huron Perth, as of Dec. 10 in a joint letter with the medical officers of health of Huron Perth and Southwestern public health units that included asking people to limit indoor social gatherings to 10 individuals, recommending everyone 12 years of age and older should be vaccinated, that unvaccinated individuals 12 and older avoid any non-essential indoor contact with people outside of their household.
In an email to the Star, the Northwestern Health Unit provided a fact sheet titled “Celebrating the Winter Holidays Safely.” It includes guidance for hosting or attending a holiday social gathering, such as keeping a list of guests for potential contact tracing, washing hands regularly and, for those who are at a higher risk of severe disease, considering attending the gathering virtually instead.
City of Ottawa
The region was the first to have confirmed Omicron cases in Canada and has seen an increase in people testing positive for COVID-19 since. Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is experiencing a backlog with its case and contact management system. In response to this, Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, released a statement on Monday asking people who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate and immediately notify high-risk contacts, since there might be a delay in Ottawa Public Health contacting those who test positive.
In a Dec. 9 statement, Etches said in order to reduce community transmission, the region is urging everyone “to pause and limit certain activities before and during the holiday season, particularly indoor activities when it involves individuals who are not yet fully vaccinated and where masks are not being worn.”
On Dec. 6, the Region of Peel announced a policy which requires the region’s vendors, service providers and contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a legally valid exemption. Vendors who currently have existing contracts with the region need to confirm by Dec. 17 that their employees are fully vaccinated, or risk having their contractor workers barred from accessing Peel work sites.
Peterborough County City
According to a Monday news release, starting Dec. 15, all non-essential employees in Peterborough county who don’t need to work on-site are required to work remotely. Essential staff who have to continue working in-person must stay two metres away from others and stagger their lunch breaks to avoid crowding eating spaces. Masks must be worn if physical distancing can’t be practiced.
Also effective on Dec. 15, businesses that sell food are not allowed to seat more than 10 people at a table, ensuring tables are separated by at least two metres or by an “impermeable barrier,” allowing customers to only eat and drink while seated, and asking patrons to wear masks while they aren’t eating or drinking, including socializing at their table.
Simcoe Muskoka District
In a Dec. 3 letter to residents and businesses, the Simcoe Muskoka public health unit issued a call asking the community to work together to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Our cases have continued to rise to a current weekly incidence rate of more than 80 cases per 100,000 persons as of December 2, 2021 which represents a doubling over the past four weeks. This places us among the health units with the highest incidence of COVID-19 in the province, well over the present provincial incidence,” read the letter issued by the region’s medical officer of health.
Some of the region’s requests include getting vaccinated, asking businesses to limit indoor capacity especially in places that serve food and beverage, and suggesting vaccinated people only gather with a small number of people outside their household, preferably with people who are also vaccinated.
In a joint letter from Southwestern Public Health, Middlesex-London Health Unit and Huron Perth Public Health sent on Dec. 9, leaders from these public health units recommend limiting indoor social gatherings to 10 people and ensuring those over 12 are fully vaccinated and suggest unvaccinated people 12 and older avoid non-essential contact indoors with people outside their household.
On Dec. 9, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health, issued a letter to residents across Greater Sudbury and the districts of Manitoulin and Sudbury with new measures effective Dec. 11. The region’s instructions include requiring businesses and organizations limit social gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, reimposing some restrictions from Step 2 for restaurants and bars such as banning buffets and, effective Dec. 15, requiring businesses to ask for proof of vaccination, even if they are exempt under Step 3 rules, and strengthened mask mandates even outdoors.
On Nov. 23, in response to rising COVID-19 cases, the Timiskaming Health Unit issued additional mandatory measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The region says people who have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID and don’t follow public health guidelines like isolating can face fines up to $5,000 per day. The health unit is reinstating measures that were lifted in September, like requiring businesses and organizations reimplement capacity limits so that patrons can maintain physical distancing of at least 2 meters.
Anyone 12 and older in the Timiskaming Health Unit area must provide proof of vaccination before entering an indoor facility to either participate, coach, officiate, volunteer, or spectate at an organized sport.
As of Monday, Toronto Public Health announced, in accordance with provincial recommendations, that all “city office staff will continue to work remotely until there are changes to these provincial public health guidelines.”
On Monday, Region of Waterloo Public Health released a statement after four confirmed Omicron cases in the region. The region says also says nine sports teams have suspected or confirmed Omicron cases with high-risk contacts. The concern is that the sports teams’ cases and clusters have a very high number of contacts, and public health is seeing a “rapid and extensive spread” among them. The region is asking everyone to limit all non-essential contact with others, including asking local schools and school boards to pause all sports and extracurricular activities for the rest of the year.
Waterloo is also ramping up the number of COVID-19 appointments available to make sure everyone who is eligible and interested in getting a first, second or third dose can do so quickly.
In a letter of instruction issued Dec. 5, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, acting medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex County, moved to limit gatherings to 10 people if held indoors, or 25 people if held outdoors.
Public health also instructed businesses and organizations to enable remote work where possible, implement virtual meetings instead, and ensure distancing in lunch rooms for employees who must work in-person. Businesses and vendors are asked to keep up with contact tracing.
The following public health units have not implemented new regional restrictions at the time of publication other than what the provincial government has currently in place: Brant County, Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District, Hastings Prince Edward, Lambton County, Leeds, Grenville and Lanark, North Bay Parry Sound District, Porcupine, and Wellington Dufferin Guelph.
The Star reached out to the following public health units but did not receive responses by the time of publication: Eastern Ontario, Halton Region, Haldimand Norfolk, Niagara Region, Renfrew County and District, Thunder Bay District and York Region.
Article From: The Star