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A look inside how COVID-19 compliance checks are carried out at Durham businesses

Click to play video 'Taking a look at how COVID-19 compliance checks work' Taking a look at how COVID-19 compliance checks work
As the province continues their big-box store blitz checking COVID-19 compliancy, Durham Health is part of that process. Frazer Snowdon had the chance to join a public health inspector to see what it entails. – Jan 21, 2021

As the Ontario government continues to check COVID-19 health order compliance of big-box stores and grocery stores, public health inspectors have been put into overdrive checking stores across the region.

Read more: Ontario to conduct weekend big-box store inspection blitz to enforce coronavirus rules

Global News got a look at what exactly is looked at when inspectors walk in. Nat Hanley with Durham Health says it’s something that gets underway as soon as he walks in the door.

“I like to do a walkthrough,” says the public health inspector. “I really want to gauge what the capacity is at and check whether or not the patrons and staff have the ability to social distance,” Hanley says.

Hanley was one of several inspectors that hit store-fronts across the region last weekend. This week we joined them for the inspection of a Metro in North Oshawa. Looking at things like traffic flow, he says, is one of the most important things we need to be mindful of when in the stores.

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“What you want, is to mitigate people walking by each other in the aisles,” he said, while wandering through the store to check on spacing.

The inspector who has been with the region since 2019 says even though the rules relating to the coronavirus pandemic have been in place for nearly a year, it is still something that patrons and store staff have to be reminded about.

Read more: Ontario labour minister says 25 tickets issued in big-box store blitz, 242 stores inspected

“Everybody’s got to play a part, it’s not just the responsibility of the store owner,” he says. “It’s also the individuals and patrons shopping that have to be cognizant at all times.”

Store manager Scott Rekker says it’s something they are always on top of when customers come in the store. He says after seeing what the inspectors do, he understands why it’s so stringent.

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“I think public health, the job they do to come in and educate us if things aren’t followed, that’s their job right.”

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That’s just what’s on the surface. Inspectors also look precisely at capacity limits, ensure protective barriers are in use at cash registers and check to make sure stores are cleaning high-touch surfaces. This is all documented in a protocol binder kept in the building.

“What we’re checking is we want documentation of disinfection. That includes customer washrooms, employee washrooms and the offices and sales floor,” Hanley says.

Read more: Coronavirus: Big Box blitz reveals only 69% of Ontario stores following COVID-19 guidelines

Staff must also stagger breaks, to ensure there are not too many people congregating in the break room. This along with barriers splitting up people if they are on break at the same time, Rekker says, this can be a challenge logistically.

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“We try to set up and rotate through their breaks. It is a challenge, but my staff have done an excellent job,” he says.

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Coronavirus: Big Box blitz reveals only 69% of Ontario stores following COVID-19 guidelines – Jan 20, 2021

Hanley also visited Wok Box, a fast food joint in Oshawa. He says because of the lockdown, dining areas have been closed, meaning for the most part, inspections are just looking at distancing of patrons and cleaning solutions.

“It’s pickup when people are coming in and getting food. They are social distancing.”

While fairly simplistic, having protocols and inspections makes staff feel safe dealing with in-person visits.

“It’s more positive to our staff that we are doing the right things,” says store owner Micheal Mallick.

Read more: Ontario reports 2,632 new coronavirus cases, 46 more deaths

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Durham Health issued six warnings to storefronts in the recent big-box blitz. That means an order to comply with provincial regulations. Among the reason for the warnings given were a lack of safety plan, no mask use and improper cleaning.

Health staff can hand out fines to store owners and the corporations they belong to. Sometimes the fines range up to thousands of dollars.

GTA-wide, officials say they only found a 69 per cent compliance rate — something Ontario’s labour minister, Monty McNaughton says was shocking.

It’s the hope that with these compliance checks, staff can help keep patrons and staff safe.