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Region's top doc orders extra health measures for businesses and organizations

New requirement to appoint a compliance officer charged with implementing and enforcing a workplace COVID-19 plan, and investigating unplanned absences
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The region’s medical officer of health is telling businesses and organizations in the area to implement further measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Dr. Charles Gardner issued a letter outlining 14 additional precautions businesses and organizations in Simcoe-Muskoka region must implement by Nov. 30. 

Among the measures is the required appointment of a compliance officer who would be charged with implementing a COVID-19 safety plan and ensuring compliance with the plan and other infection control measures. The compliance officer should also investigate unplanned absences by workers for any risk of COVID-19 exposure. They would also be charged with encouraging any workers identified as close contacts of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 to self-isolate, and seek assessment and testing. 

Gardner said businesses and organizations should be allowing remote work where “reasonably possible.” 

“Since September, we’ve seen a substantial increase in workplace transmission, often resulting in outbreaks, due in part to a failure of workplaces to meet the requirements of the provincial health and safety legislation and the public health preventive measures for the workplace,” states Gardner in a press release issued by the health unit. 

The health unit has reported 14 workplace outbreaks in total with two still ongoing. The first workplace outbreak was identified mid-June. There have been 108 cases of Simcoe-Muskoka residents contracting COVID-19 through a workplace outbreak as of Nov. 23. One person who contracted COVID-19 through a workplace outbreak has died. 

The other measures included in Gardner’s letter include a reminder to install barriers such as plexiglass in environments where physical distancing cannot take place, and to otherwise ensure workers stay at least two metres apart during eating and rest periods. He has also reminded employers to conduct active screening daily for all workers attending in-person. 

The doctor told employers to make sure face coverings and other PPE are used appropriately, and that supplies and facilities are provided for adequate hand washing. 

He also encouraged businesses and organizations to reduce carpooling or other instances of more than one person per vehicle. 

Another of the 14 measures included in the letter states an employer must conduct, or have the landlord conduct, a regular review of the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems in the workplace to ensure they are functioning in good order. 

“We are facing a critical time in our fight against this disease,” said Dr. Gardner. “We must increase our efforts to contain its spread.”

This is not the only letter Gardner has sent this week. He also sent one to municipalities, recommending they prohibit access to their recreation facilities to anyone from a red or grey lockdown zone. 

On Nov. 24 he issued a special statement urging residents in Simcoe-Muskoka to do more to stop the spread of COVID-19. He reminded the public to avoid travelling to lower transmission areas (e.g., from red to orange) except for essential reasons. During a media briefing the same day, he also advised people should not be travelling to higher-transmission regions (e.g., from orange to red) for non-essential purposes either. 

Gardner’s 14 measures for businesses and organizations are mostly in keeping with workplace safety legislation already in place “and thus should not be new,” states the health unit news release. 

“However, this letter of instruction serves to strengthen communication to employers on the importance of compliance with these practices, and when needed, increased enforcement,” states the release. 

Enforcement of Gardner’s instructions to businesses and organizations can be through police officers, municipal bylaw officers, and health enforcement personnel. 

To reach the health unit about this or other matters, you can call Health Connection to speak with a public health professional weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 705-721-7520 (1-877-721-7520)