PHSD announces new measures to curb climbing COVID-19 numbers

Persistently high and growing COVID-19 case rates have prompted Public Health Sudbury & Districts’ Medical Officer of Health to expand the legally enforceable Instructions currently in place locally under the provincial Reopening Ontario Act. New protective measures are being implemented throughout the agency’s service area and those currently in force in Greater Sudbury are being expanded to reach across the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts.

“We are at a point where we need to double down on the basics like masking, physical distancing, and vaccination. But local circumstances also mean that we also need some new rules, rolling back some relaxed measures, to further protect people who are unvaccinated, especially kids,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Medical Officer of Health with Public Health Sudbury & Districts. “Today I am announcing new protective measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and do our best to ensure we are as prepared as we can be for the highly transmissible Omicron variant,” added Dr. Sutcliffe.

Following a review of trends and data—and considering concerns about the Omicron variant and the socializing that occurs with the holiday season—Dr. Sutcliffe, with the support of the provincial Chief Medical Officer of Health, is requiring that the following measures be in place across Greater Sudbury, Manitoulin District, and Sudbury District, effective Saturday, December 11, 2021, at 12:01 a.m. The new Instructions expand the measures currently in place for the City of Greater Sudbury to apply across the agency’s services area, including:

  • Reinstated capacity limits and physical distancing requirements relaxed by the province in early fall.
  • Strengthened masking requirements at organized public events.
  • Strengthened proof of vaccination requirements for those participating in organized sports at indoor facilities.
  • Reinstated the former requirement that people work remotely (for example from home) unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site at the workplace.

These new Instructions also add new protections as follows:

  • Businesses and organizations that are open must limit the size of social gatherings and organized public events in their premises and venues to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
  • Proof of vaccination requirements (for those 12 years of age and over) for all non-essential businesses and organizations for which it is currently voluntary (opt-in) under the Step 3 Rules, while maintaining capacity limits. This will apply, for example, to personal care services, indoor recreational amenities, and museums, galleries, and science centres, among others. A full list of settings is available in the detailed technical brief (PDF). This measure will not be in effect until Wednesday, December 15, 2021, at 12:01 a.m.
  • Strengthened requirements for basic public health measures across sectors including masking, physical distancing, active screening, and contact tracing. For example, masks will be required outdoors in places where people cannot maintain physical distance of at least 2 metres from those not part of their households (subject to exemptions for mask use).
  • Strengthened requirements for safety plans for all businesses and organizations, including detail for what these must contain. This includes for example, conducting and documenting regular reviews of the plan with workers.
  • Food and drink establishments will be required to reimplement some protections from Step 2, including no buffets and ensuring that patrons generally remain seated (except when dancing in establishments where that is permitted).
  • In facilities used for indoor sports and recreational fitness activities, and for personal physical fitness trainers:
    • Returning to a physical distancing requirement of 3 metres (instead of 2 metres) for some activities.
    • Establishing new protections to enhance the safety of the facility, for example, in washrooms and change rooms.
  • Team sports or games that may result in personal contact must not be practised or played at the facility, indoors or outdoors, unless the sport or game has been modified to avoid personal contact. Limited exceptions apply to professional and elite sport leagues or associations. School-related extra-curricular team sports or games are subject to separate measures previously communicated.
  • Requiring shopping malls to reduce the volume levels of music and prevent line ups and congregating unless physical distance of 2 metres is maintained.
  • For those who cannot work remotely, strengthened workplace health and safety measures, for example, requirements for virtual meetings and staggered breaks to the fullest extent possible.

Case rates continue to climb in the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts. On December 4, 2021, Public Health Sudbury & Districts surpassed a milestone of 4000 COVID-19 cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic, less than one month after we reached the previous milestone of 3000 cases. Despite the pandemic being in its 21st month, more than one quarter (26%) of total cases have been reported in just the last 30 days. With record numbers of cases currently active and as COVID-19 infections continue to rise, new hospitalizations and the need for ICU admissions would be expected to follow, not only impacting community members, but our health care system as well. Public Health is asking everyone to understand the seriousness of this risk to all and do whatever is possible to help reverse the current COVID-19 case trends. Public Health is doing its best to ensure additional restrictions will reduce transmission, protect in-person learning, and safeguard health and the health care system.

“The additional COVID-19 protection measures already in place have had an impact in that our numbers are not sky-rocketing. However, case rates are stubbornly high and remain among the highest in the province. While we do see cases of COVID-19 among students, which ultimately affect classes, cohorts, and schools, transmission is mostly occurring in community—we are not seeing high transmission of COVID-19 in schools and we remain focused in preserving in-person learning. The recent modelling from Ontario’s Science Advisory Table paints a stark picture of case growth even without the Omicron variant. The modelling shows that we need to double down on public health measures to blunt transmission, combined with getting as many people as possible protected through vaccination,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Medical Officer of Health with Public Health Sudbury & Districts.

In addition to the Instructions issued under the Reopening Ontario Act, the Medical Officer of Health is strongly recommending that area residents follow these additional measures:

  • Avoid non-essential travel, including holiday travel plans. If you do decide to travel, make it as safe as possible by getting vaccinated, masking, visiting outdoors or in well ventilated areas, and staying home if even mildly unwell.
  • Take steps to make social gatherings in private settings as safe as possible. Consider the vaccination status of everyone attending the gathering—for example, it’s safest to only gather with individuals who are fully vaccinated, recognizing that some children may not be eligible. Limit the size of your gathering to as few people as possible. The fewer people who gather, the lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
  • Plan ahead for any overnight guests to ensure COVID-safe measures are in place. Consider the vaccination status of all involved. Have a plan on how guests can safely self-isolate should they develop a symptom during their stay and know where to seek testing.
  • Practise safe retail behaviours. Consider curbside pick-up and off-peak shopping hours.
  • For those living in congregate settings such as long-term care homes, retirements homes, or other settings with vulnerable persons, consider the vaccination status of those you might visit over the holidays and additional safety measures for when you return, such as careful symptom monitoring and testing.

Public Health is reissuing its call to everyone to continue to limit your outings, get vaccinated, wear your mask, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas, and keep 2 metres distance from those not part of your own household. Monitor yourself for symptoms and stay home when ill—even mildly symptomatic people should self-isolate immediately and seek testing to prevent spreading COVID-19 in our community. When practised diligently, COVID-safe measures help to limit the spread of COVID-19, including the variants of concern.

Public Health Sudbury & Districts will continue to review and assess the data and amend the Instructions accordingly. Full details, including the detailed Letter of Instructions document, will be available shortly at phsd.ca. A detailed technical brief (PDF) describing the current local COVID-19 circumstances is found here.

For more information or if you have questions about COVID-19 or vaccinations, please visit phsd.ca/COVID-19 or call Public Health Sudbury & Districts at 705.522.9200 (toll-free 1.866.522.9200).