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Province introduces new public health restrictions, changes to COVID-19 testing

Ontario requiring masks indoors, transitioning to appointment-based testing, pausing social circles, placing restrictions on some bars, restaurants, gyms

By Chris Daponte, Wellington Advertiser

TORONTO — In response to increasing cases during the second wave of COVID-19 and in preparation for colder weather, the provincial government changing testing procedures and introducing new public health restrictions.

The province is requiring that masks be worn in all indoor settings and is transitioning to appointment-based testing, pausing social circles and, in some regions, placing more restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms and event facilities.

“The modelling we released this week demonstrates the absolute necessity to take action now to reverse current trends and protect our hospital capacity,” said Premier Doug Ford in an Oct. 2 announcement.

“With the weather changing and more people moving indoors, the decision to introduce new restrictions on restaurants, gyms and other businesses was difficult.

“However, we will do whatever is necessary, acting on the advice of our public health experts, to turn the tide on this second wave and keep everyone safe.”

While face coverings were already required in most businesses in the Grey Bruce Public Health and Huron Perth Public Health regions, among others, the new rules make masks mandatory in all public indoor settings across the province.

That includes businesses, facilities and workplaces, with limited exemptions.

Testing

The government has announced it will transition to appointment-based testing at COVID-19 assessment centres, starting on Oct. 6.

Officials say the move will “provide certainty to patients as to when they can receive a test during the cold winter months and allowing assessment centres to conduct enhanced screening.”

Walk-in appointments will end on Oct. 4 to allow labs to process those tests and to facilitate cleaning and preparation for the appointment-based model.

Across the province wait times at assessment centres have often exceeded three hours.

Other testing guidelines introduced  include:

  • continuing mobile testing and pop-up testing centres for long-term care, congregate care and other vulnerable populations;
  • expanding the number of pharmacies where asymptomatic people can get tested;
  • updated testing guidance for children and their parents;
  • increasing testing/processing capacity to 50,000 tests per day by mid-October and 68,000 by mid-November; and
  • introducing new testing methods once they are approved by Health Canada, including point-of-care testing and antigen testing.

Public health restrictions

The government is implementing several restrictions in Ottawa, Peel, and Toronto, as a result of high transmission rates in those regions.

The new measures, effective on Oct. 3, include:

  • limiting indoor capacity at restaurants, bars and nightclubs to the number of patrons who can maintain a physical distance of at least two metres, up to a maximum of 100 patrons (no more than six patrons per table);
  • introducing mandatory collection of contract tracing information at restaurants, bars and nightclubs;
  • restricting capacity at gyms and other fitness facilities to 50 people, with no more than 10 in group exercise classes; and
  • limiting to 50 the number of people allowed at meeting and event facilities, including banquet halls (six people per table).

Social circles, event gatherings

Other province-wide changes announced by the government on Oct. 2 include:

  • pausing social circles and advising all Ontarians to allow close contact only with people in their own household and to distance (2m) from everyone else (those living alone may consider having close contact with another household);
  • refusing for another 28 days to allow the opening of any new businesses, facilities, and organizations not currently included in the stage three of the province’s reopening plan; and
  • finalizing additional guidance for seniors (70 and over) on how to minimize their risk of acquiring COVID-19, including for gatherings such as Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day.

The government is also reminding Ontarians “it remains critically important for everyone to continue following public health advice,” including physical distancing, wearing a face covering when required, washing hands frequently and following gathering limits and rules.

For additional protection, officials are encouraging everyone to download the new COVID Alert app on their smart phone.