Toronto has ordered four businesses to close over COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace, including a fast-food restaurant and a car dealership, and has partly shuttered seven more.
The shutdowns were issued as Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region, both hotbeds of the third pandemic wave hitting Ontario, move more aggressively than the provincial government in an attempt to get infections under control.
Workplaces continue to be a key driver of transmissions in Ontario. In one recent week alone – from April 11 through April 17 – Public Health Ontario recorded 624 workplace cases that were associated with outbreaks, in sectors such as farms, food-processing and warehousing. That was more than one-third of the total number of cases associated with outbreaks that week.
The top doctors for both Toronto and Peel have used health legislation to issue what are called Section 22 orders, allowing them to close businesses where COVID-19 is spreading.
“The purpose of the new order is to separate people who may be infecting each other throughout the duration of the workday and then taking those infections home,” Toronto Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa said at a briefing Monday.
“I hope people find reassurance in the existence of this order. It is meant to reduce risk on a carefully applied basis.”
The businesses closed Monday under Toronto’s Section 22 order were a McDonald’s outlet, the High Park Nissan car dealership, Meat & Co. Boutique and Classic Fire Protection, which offers sprinkler, alarm and other anti-fire services. They will remain shuttered for at least 10 days.
The seven workplaces ordered partly closed include a construction company and businesses producing food stuffs, furniture, plastic containers, aerospace equipment and health and beauty products.
On the weekend, Peel revealed the names of two Amazon warehouses that had been partially shut under its Section 22 order. The company has long struggled with the virus and its facilities comprised two of the province’s top 10 workplace outbreaks as of February, according to data obtained under a Freedom of Information request filed by The Globe and Mail.
The information provided through the FOI showed 346 cases in its Brampton/Heritage Road facility. These had increased to at least 622 by March, Peel Public Health has said, which triggered a full shutdown of the facility for two weeks. The list also shows 265 cases at Amazon’s Bolton facility, as of Feb. 21.
In Toronto, an Amazon warehouse had an outbreak officially declared by Public Health on March 25, with the most recent tally putting that facility’s number of cases at 31. Other workplaces with double-digit positive cases include Maple Leaf Foods, Canada Post, mattress company Tempur Sealy Canada and concrete firm Structform International.
Companies with outbreaks are not necessarily required to close under the Section 22 order, which requires at least five linked cases or other evidence of workplace transmission.
Each case will be investigated individually, said Dr. de Villa, who noted that if a part of the workplace, perhaps one shift or one area, is affected, that might lead only to a partial shutdown.
“If on the other hand, the nature of the investigation is such that there is evidence of a broader transmission risk happening, then that’s the kind of thing that will lead to a full closure,” she said. “Or if in fact the physical space or the layout of the workplace is such that the whole place is affected, then of course that would also require a full closure.”
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