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Health unit 'still working out fine details' of province's current restrictions

The Simcoe Muskoka region has been under the yellow zone restrictions since Saturday
Screen Shot 2020-11-10 at 3.55.37 PM
Dr. Charles Gardner speaks to the media during a live update on Nov. 10. Screen capture

The Simcoe Muskoka region is technically under colour-coded COVID restrictions from the province, but exactly what those are is still a grey area.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is one of several Ontario health units placed in the yellow zone in the province’s new COVID measures framework, which was activated on Saturday.

The framework replaces the old Stage 1-3 reopening plan and includes graduated restrictions that are triggered by indicators like the virus spread, and the capacity of the local health system to handle the spread.

There is a basic breakdown of the restrictions for each level from green to yellow to orange to red and then “lockdown.” But it’s not clear enough for the region’s medical officer of health to say for sure all the activities or services that are impacted.

The health unit received an influx of calls on Monday after the province announced its new framework, according to Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka region.

“We’re working through the fine detail of the regulations ourselves,” said Gardner. “People are reaching out to us and we’ll have to reach out to them when we get the messages clear.”

Part of the issue, according to Gardner, has been the speed at which the framework was announced and then implemented.

The province announced the concept of its framework last Tuesday and had Simcoe Muskoka in the green category then. But on Saturday, the region was swapped to yellow, a move Gardner supported last week.

“It’s been two or three days and part of that was the weekend … normally when you have regulatory changes you have a lot of time,” he said. “These are not normal times .. rather it comes out and it’s already happening.”

He said the challenge now is to communicate the changes quickly and effectively, even after they have been implemented.

“That’s been part of the challenge all the way through,” he said. “It’s part and parcel to a rapidly moving pandemic.”

According to the province, the new regulations will be enforced with fines and prosecution for “blatant and/or repeated non-compliance.”

Based on the information the province has released on the framework, the yellow “protect” measures maintain the same “general” measures for things like gatherings, workplaces and face coverings.

Masks are still mandatory in indoor public spaces and workplaces. Social gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. Organized public events can have up to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

Bars, restaurants and meeting spaces face new restrictions requiring them to close by midnight, stop serving liquor by 11 p.m. and limit the number of people at a table to six or fewer. Music has to be kept “no louder than the volume of a normal conversation.” Retail spaces have to follow the same rules for music.

Personal care service providers have to keep contact information for all patrons.

Casinos, cinemas, performing arts facilities, and gaming establishments also must keep contact records for patrons, and follow the reduced hours of operation and liquor service times that are required of restaurants. Capacity is capped at 50 people or fewer and table games are prohibited even in the green level for the provincial framework. Those restrictions carry through the yellow zone.

The yellow zone gets murky when it comes to sports and recreational fitness facilities. The provincial framework states no recreational program can exceed 10 people per room indoors and 25 outdoors.

Spacing also has to increase in the facilities to allow for three-metres between individuals. A contact info log must be kept for all patrons and attendance taken for team sports.

It’s unclear whether there are any changes in regulations for classes at facilities like arenas, pools, and mutli-plexes.

“It’s not clear to me yet, I do need to get a better sense of it,” said Gardner, noting he had plans to look further into the framework with health unit staff.

“It would apply to classes like yoga and spin classes,” he added.

Following Dr. Gardner's press conference today, the health unit stated: "It is our understanding that hockey competition would be permitted (no intentional physical contact) and that there would be a cap on 50 persons from a curling perspective." 

According to the framework, in the orange zone, the province further limits capacity in recreational and fitness facilities to 50 people per facility, but pools and arenas are expressly excluded from that restriction.

In the red zone, provincial framework specifically dictates arenas and multiplexes are limited to 10 people per room indoors and 25 people outdoors.

Questions from CollingwoodToday submitted to the Ministry of Health regarding classes at recreational facilities such as arenas and pools were redirected to the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries. The questions were submitted on Friday and the ministry acknowledged receipt but has not yet provided any response.


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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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