As the Ontario government carefully and gradually reopens the province, those taking public transit, returning to work or going out shopping are being urged to continue to adhere to public health advice as the best line of defence against COVID-19. To assist the public, the Ministry of Health today released specific recommendations on how to choose, wear and care for appropriate face coverings used in public where physical distancing is not possible, along with additional safety measures for provincial transit agencies.
The details were released today by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation.
“Now that we are in Stage 1 of our Framework for Reopening the Province, more people will be returning to workplaces, going to stores and parks, and using public transit,” said Premier Ford. “I strongly urge everyone to continue following the public health advice, such as physical distancing and restricting gatherings to five people or less. Although we are making progress, COVID-19 is still a risk that we must guard against. Please stay safe and protect yourself and others.”
Since the beginning of the outbreak, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, has advised people to wash their hands often, stay at home if feeling ill, and practise physical distancing by staying at least two metres apart from anyone outside their household. Now that the province is reopening, the Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts are recommending that individuals wear a face covering where physical distancing is not possible, such as on public transit or in a small grocery store or pharmacy. In order to assist people and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, the Ministry of Health released the following face covering recommendations:
- Wear your face covering safely and snugly to cover your nose and mouth, without any gaps. Ensure your face covering is made of at least two layers of tightly woven material and can be cleaned multiple times without losing its shape;
- Medical masks, such as surgical and N95 masks, should be reserved for use by health care workers, those providing direct care, first responders and individuals who are ill and must leave their home for essential reasons such as seeking medical care, picking up medication or groceries;
- Face coverings should not be placed on or used by children under the age of two; anyone who has trouble breathing; and anyone who is unable to remove it without assistance.
“If you need a face covering, it is critically important people wear one that is appropriate for the situation,” said Minister Elliott. “Those taking transit or going out who can’t physically distance should wear non-medical grade cloth masks. We need to reserve all of the medical masks to protect our frontline health care workers, first responders and people who are ill.”
Workers and employers may also consider using face coverings as an additional public health measure in addition to mandatory occupational health and safety measures.
To assist provincial transit agencies in protecting transit staff and riders in this new environment, the Ministry of Health is also recommending the following measures be put in place:
- Physical distancing of at least two metres by admitting fewer passengers and using physical markers between seats;
- The use of face coverings, particularly when physical distancing is not feasible;
- Ensuring the availability of alcohol-based hand rub upon entering and exiting the vehicle;
- Implementing engineering controls like plexiglass windows between drivers and passengers; and
- Enhanced cleaning, particularly of high-touch surfaces.
“Ontario’s public transit systems are critical to supporting the economy and getting people where they need to go as the province begins to reopen,” said Minister Mulroney. “The health and well-being of all transit workers and passengers is a top priority for our government and we will be working with transit agencies to ensure that public transit can continue to operate safely.”
All Canadians continue to be legally required to self-isolate for 14 days when returning home from international travel.
In the meantime, Ontario and public health experts will carefully monitor the key public health indicators outlined in A Framework to Reopening our Province at each stage of reopening and will adjust public health measures if necessary.