The Region of Peel and the City of Toronto have ordered all businesses with five or more recent COVID-19 cases to shut down for 10 days.
Peel Public Health was the first to issue the directive for businesses who have discovered the cases over the last 14 days where “the cases could have reasonably acquired their infection at work” or where “no obvious source of infection has been identified outside of the workplace.”
The region’s medical officer of health said workplaces still remain a “major driver of COVID-19 cases in Peel.”
Just after noon, the City of Toronto issued the same directive.
“Workplaces that are open provide an opportunity for COVID-19 to spread,” said Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa. “Given that the majority of our cases are now as a result of variants of concern, which transmit faster, this order will support Toronto Public Health’s investigators to help workplaces immediately reduce the risk of spread and manage workplace outbreaks quickly.”
Toronto Public Health said it worked with Peel Public Health on the order, “given the high case counts and number of workplaces in outbreak” in both areas.
Dr. Lawrence Loh said the closing of a business experiencing an outbreak will allow for the public health unit to investigate without risk of continuing the spread.
Loh also urged those businesses required to close to offer its impacted employees paid leave as the province doesn’t have a paid sick leave program in place — something doctors and experts have urged the Ford government to do throughout the pandemic.
Peel Public Health said all businesses ordered to close will be published on its website. It is not clear if Toronto will do the same.
Those businesses deemed essential for the well-being of the community, such as businesses in health care and emergency child care, will be exempt from full closure in Peel, the region said, while Toronto officials said only that they may be exempt.
Toronto will issue its order by Friday, it said. Peel Region said businesses could be told to close as early as Friday, and those affected will be contacted directly before they are publicly identified.
This is not the first time Loh has ordered a business to shut down due to an outbreak. In mid-March, the doctor order a Brampton Amazon facility to close for 14 days after he said it had more than 600 cases since October.
The province has faced increasing pressure from health experts and advocates to implement paid sick days and close non-essential workplaces amid a third wave that threatens to overwhelm the health-care system.
The governing Progressive Conservatives shot down Opposition motions on both issues Monday, saying they were waiting for the federal government to announce an expansion of its sick-day program.
Ontario’s top doctor, meanwhile, said Monday that the province could look into closing more non-essential businesses, but suggested there isn’t a “clear-cut answer” as to what is essential.
Provincial data released last week showed Peel Region – which includes Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon – had the highest COVID-19 positivity rate at 15 per cent, with Toronto coming in second at 11.3 per cent.
One of the public health experts involved in preparing the province’s COVID-19 projections said last fall that the virus is hardest to control in areas such as Brampton where the proportion of essential service workers is higher and households are larger.
The province is currently under a six-week stay-at-home order to curb surging case numbers and record-setting hospital admissions.
As of Monday, Ontario reported a total of 421,442 COVID-19 cases and 7,735 total deaths since the onset of the pandemic.
—With files from The Canadian Press