The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) has announced new public health measures for gyms, restaurants and salons in the region as part of its ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new measures are issued directly from London and Middlesex County’s medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie, who has the power to do so under Section 22 of Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act.
The new measures are effective 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
The first of the targeted restrictions is aimed at those who operate indoor sports and recreational fitness activities, including gyms, health clubs, community centres, multi-purpose facilities, arenas, exercise studios, yoga, dance studios and other fitness facilities.
Under the new measures, operators are ordered to take the following actions:
- The total number of people permitted to be in a class, organized program, or organized activity at the facility cannot exceed 10 people, including staff. Each class, organized program, or organized activity must take place in a separate room or, if occurring on an indoor soccer field or ice pad, separated by a minimum distance of nine metres. Final capacity is determined by the ability to maintain three metres of physical distance between each person.
- The instructor of any class, organized program or organized activity must wear a face covering or provide instruction virtually. Instructors should also wear microphones to reduce the need for shouting; participants singing along to the music or shouting back at the instructor should be discouraged.
- Any person who enters or uses the facility must maintain a physical distance of at least 2 m from any other person who is using the facility. The exception to this is any class, organized program, or organized activity in which three metres of physical distance must be maintained.
- The operator must ensure that the building heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) system are well maintained in line with the province’s guidance for facilities for sports and recreational fitness activities during COVID-19.
- Any steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools, or bathhouses must be closed.
The next set of restrictions is aimed at personal care settings. This includes hair salons, nail salons, aesthetician services, tanning salons, spas and tattoo studios.
These restrictions include the following actions:
- No personal care services that require the removal of a mask or face covering may be provided.
- Persons who provide personal care services in the business must wear appropriate personal protective equipment, including but not limited to a mask or face covering. Employees or service providers who cannot wear a face covering are not permitted to have direct contact with clients.
- Any locker rooms, change rooms, and showers must be closed, except to the extent they provide access to equipment storage, a washroom, or a portion of the business that is used to provide first aid.
- Any steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools, or bathhouses must be closed.
- Any baths, hot tubs, floating pools, or sensory deprivation pods must be closed, unless they are used for a therapeutic purpose prescribed by, or administered by, a regulated health professional.
- Oxygen bars must be closed.
The last set of restrictions are aimed at food or drink establishments and banquet halls. This includes restaurants, bars, food trucks and concession stands.
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Under the new restrictions, the following actions have been ordered:
- Ensure that no more than six people are seated at each table in an indoor or outdoor area.
- Ensure that patrons are seated at all times except:
- while entering the area and while moving to their table,
- while placing or picking up an order,
- while paying for an order,
- while exiting the area,
- while going to or returning from a washroom,
- while lining up to do anything described in the preceding five points,
- where necessary for the purposes of health and safety.
- Ensure that patrons seated at different tables are separated by:
- a distance of at least 2 m, or
- plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier.
- Record the name and contact information of every patron that enters an indoor or outdoor dining area in the establishment, other than patrons who temporarily enter the area to place, pick up or pay for a takeout order.
- maintain the records for a period of at least one month, and
- only disclose the records to a medical officer of health or an inspector under the Health Protection and Promotion Act on request for a purpose specified in Section 2 of that Act or as otherwise required by law.
Business operators who fail to comply with the new measures may be fined up to $5,000 for every day they commit a violation. Corporations may face up to a $25,000 fine for each day a violation is committed.
During a news conference on Wednesday, Mackie said the intention is to be proactive. The medical officer of health alluded to the recent outbreak at the downtown Hamilton gym SPINCO, which has been connected to dozens of cases of COVID-19.
“We’re not going to sit around and wait for a huge outbreak in our community before taking some reasonable actions that will potentially eliminate the possibility of having that level of outbreak at all,” said Mackie.
While the measures provide some new restrictions for local businesses, many of them are already found in rules for regions currently in Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan, which includes London and Middlesex County.
Mackie says replicating those measures on a local scale will open up the enforcement process by expanding the number of staff resources and providing more latitude on the cost of fines.
“It’s also an opportunity to reinforce the importance of those public health measures,” said Mackie.
The move earned praise from London Mayor Ed Holder. During Wednesday’s news conference, Holder said the new measures will prevent the region from mirroring Toronto, Ottawa, Peel and York Region, which have all entered into a modified Stage 2 of Ontario’s reopening plan due to a surge in cases.
“In those communities, hundreds of people are becoming ill with the virus each day and thousands of people are out of work with no indication as to when they might be able to return,” said Holder.
“No one wants that for London-Middlesex and that is why I commend the medical officer of health for his measures and proactive response, instead of blanket shutdowns and widespread closures.”
Randi Dias is the manager of Forest City Fitness, a gym in London’s Berkshire Village neighbourhood.
While the measures are part of a new order from the MLHU, Dias says her gym has been practicing similar policies since they reopened in July. That includes ensuring proper ventilation is installed, limiting class sizes in their fitness studios to well under 10 people and having instructors wear masks during classes.
“It’s something that we have already kind of put in place, so I agree with it and I feel like it’s the best way to keep everybody safe and our community feeling comfortable,” said Dias.
“If this is what the provincial government, and then also London, Ont., is implementing, I think we need to follow suit.”