As part of the provincial COVID-19 education and enforcement campaign, multi-ministry teams, working in coordination with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU), visited local businesses. The campaign aimed to help businesses stay safe by ensuring that they were taking the necessary steps to protect employees, consumers, and the public from COVID-19. Where necessary, businesses were instructed to take corrective steps needed to operate safely. While the focus was on education, officers did exercise their enforcement discretion when they found significant non-compliance.
A total of 263 businesses were visited. Retail establishments – such as grocery, big box, convenience, clothing, hardware, and pharmacies among others – made up most of the visits (156). The rest of the visits included restaurants (79), fitness centres (24) and personal service settings (4). Fifty-nine percent of businesses visited were found to have no contraventions. Among the remaining 41% of businesses, 145 contraventions were observed:
Screening practices (29%): Screening of employees, essential visitors, and patrons (in certain settings) are mandatory. Most contraventions reported related to the place of business not adequately screening staff.
Masking requirement (27%): Provincial regulations mandate the use of masks in all indoor public spaces across the province. Some exemptions apply. Most mask contraventions referred to staff and/or management either not wearing a mask or improperly wearing one.
Safety plan (30%): As per the COVID-19 Response Framework, safety plans are required in higher risk settings. Businesses and organizations permitted to open during the provincewide shutdown are required to have a workplace safety plan. Contraventions were noted when safety plans were either missing or needing improvements.
Other (14%): The remaining contraventions related to a lack of physical distancing measures and enforcement, inadequate Personal Protective Equipment availability and use by staff, concerns with cleaning and disinfection procedures and practices, lack of monitoring and control of capacity limits, and having the volume of music too high.
Most businesses that were visited between December 3rd and 5th, 2020 were provided with education and resources to meet the requirements when contraventions were observed. Overall, 11 warnings and 1 ticket were issued, however, most contraventions observed were corrected immediately or shortly thereafter by the businesses.
The findings from the campaign will be used to ensure EOHU staff can continue to support businesses with their ongoing operations and with the latest reopening following the provincewide shutdown. With several teams in place, the EOHU provides support to, and consults with local businesses, volunteers, and others involved in organizing events and activities. EOHU inspection teams continue visiting local businesses for ongoing education but also to ensure compliance is occurring. Additionally, the provincial taskforce is expected to be back to conduct another round of inspections soon.
“We recognize that the shutdown and the various public health measures have posed some challenges and required significant efforts from our local businesses and organizers, and I want to applaud them for their efforts,” states Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health. “But as the provincial campaign has shown, there is room for improvement. We must remain vigilant. With variants of concern being detected across Ontario, the public health measures are all the more important to prevent a resurgence in cases. EOHU staff are there to support our local businesses and organizers as they navigate public health measures and regulations, which can shift rapidly in response to the evolving circumstances of the pandemic.”
For more information on COVID-19, please visit the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s website at www.EOHU.ca/coronavirus.