Ontario is not yet setting dates for restarting the economy, but today the province is providing guidelines to businesses for how to reopen safely, including ground markings for physical distancing and installing plexiglass barriers.
Premier Doug Ford says Ontario has made “tremendous progress” in flattening the curve, and as soon as it is safe to start reopening, he will do so as quickly as possible.
Ontario reported 459 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and 86 more deaths — the largest daily total of fatalities so far.
Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged the bump in new cases, which was higher than the previous day’s growth rate, but said the most important thing is the overall trend is headed in the right direction.
Ontario released guidance Thursday for specific sectors, including office workers, retail and food service, construction, transportation, agriculture and film and TV. People in all sectors will be advised to stay home if they are unwell, wash their hands frequently, and institute cleaning procedures.
Recommendations include holding team meetings outdoors, staggering shift times and using ground markings and barriers to manage traffic flow.
Offices should be set up to maintain physical distancing of two metres, workstations and telephones should not be shared, and as many employees as possible should work from home, the guidelines say.
Retail businesses should consider more online ordering, delivery and curbside pick-up options, and having no contact with delivery customers by letting them know via text message that their package has arrived.
For in-store settings, businesses should rely more on cashless transactions, install barriers between cashiers and customers, introduce floor markings for physical distancing, sanitize carts and baskets, provide hand sanitizer for customers upon entry, control how many people are in the store at one time, and not accept reusable bags or containers.
“If the above recommendations are still not enough for your workplace, as a last resort, consider personal protective equipment (PPE),” the guidelines for cashiers say.
“PPE is only effective if people wear it correctly. Ensure PPE training includes the fit, use, care, putting on and taking off, maintenance, cleaning and limitations of the PPE.”
Transit services are encouraged to reduce the number of people on board by limiting passengers or modifying hours of service, have rear entry only on buses, and use visual cues or partitions to keep passengers at least two metres away from operators.
The guidelines also address physical changes to workplaces such as installing Plexiglas barriers, increasing the air intake on heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to increase air flow, and using boot sanitizing trays.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said the measures are not mandatory, but he expects businesses will follow the guidelines.
“It’s important for these businesses, obviously, to have their workers come back and show up when those specific businesses open, but it’s also … an economic issue because these businesses need customers coming in their doors as well,” he said.
“So we would anticipate these businesses will follow these best practices.”
Inspectors will be “proactively communicating” how to implement the guidelines and at some point will be enforcing some Occupational Health and Safety Act measures, McNaughton said.
The opposition New Democrats, however, called for the government to put forth mandatory rules for reopening, saying some employers “absolutely will not” follow voluntary guidelines.
“Allowing individual employers to decide if their employees, customers and suppliers get to be adequately protected is a bad idea that will put people at risk, and hurt us all if it leads to a resurgence of COVID-19,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.
Ontario’s case total includes 1,082 deaths and 10,205 resolved cases — or 63 per cent of the total.
Figures on COVID-19’s impact in long-term care homes, which come from a separate database than the provincial numbers, show 60 more resident deaths in the past day for a total of 835.
There are now outbreaks at 163 long-term care homes, up from 159 on Wednesday.
Ontario also announced Thursday it is now allowing hospitals to discharge patients into long-term care homes, after transfers were paused on April 16.
People can be readmitted to their long-term care homes if they have tested negative for COVID-19, that facility does not have an active outbreak, and they can be isolated for 14 days.
There were 12,928 COVID-19 tests completed in the province on Wednesday, despite a pledge from the province to reach 14,000 tests a day by then. The government had previously promised to reach 18,900 tests a day by mid-April.
Ford said he was “all over” the shortfall in a meeting with health officials Thursday morning, and was told it will definitely be up to 14,000 this week.
Hospitalizations are up from 977 people to 999, though the numbers of people in intensive care and on ventilators declined for a fourth straight day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2020.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press