All employees across the Northwestern Health Unit’s catchment area will be required to pass a COVID-19 screen before entering their workplace, as the Northwestern Health Unit issues new orders to businesses.

The instructions, which outline specific requirements under the Reopening Ontario Act for owners and operators of workplaces to keep sick employees at home, will take effect as of May 13, 2021. They will remain in effect until rescinded by the NWHU.

The orders include fines for workplaces that fail to keep employees home when they should be self-isolating, which will be enforced by public health officials and provincial offence officers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

The orders also state that employees with COVID-19 symptoms should be tested as soon as possible, masks must be worn, social distancing must be maintained with workplace-specific capacity limits, workplaces must keep a log of all workers present and retain it for a minimum of 30 days, and more.

“We have seen an increase in the number of workplace-related COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in our area over the past few weeks. Upon investigation, we have learned that some individuals are attending work with symptoms of COVID-19,” says Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon.

“Unfortunately, workplaces not following public health recommendations are contributing to increasing COVID-19 rates in the region. Increasing rates can lengthen the time that current public health restrictions are applied,” she adds.

Young Hoon says while she understands workers may go into work not knowing they’re sick or they’re asymptomatic, if you are experiencing any cold or flu-like symptoms, you must stay home from work, self-isolate and get tested for COVID-19.

“Workplaces need to encourage and educate their staff that they need to stay home if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or they have failed a screening test. They’re also expected to self-isolate if they’re a case of COVID-19 or are a close-contact of a case.”

The health unit is also asking business owners to support employees who may struggle financially if they cannot work due to their symptoms or are awaiting test results, which may take 2 to 5 days in northwestern Ontario.

“When employees are supported, it reduces the chance of COVID-19 spreading in your workplace and increases the likelihood that your workplace can remain open. It is a good investment.”

Ontario approved its new support program, the COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Program, on April 29. It provides three paid sick days to employees who do not receive paid sick days through their employer, and residents are eligible for up to $200 per day taken.

The paid sick days apply to those who are:

- Going for a COVID-19 test,
- Staying home awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test,
- Being sick with COVID-19,
- Going to get vaccinated,
- Experiencing a side effect from a COVID-19 vaccination,
- Having been advised to self-isolate by an employer, medical practitioner or other authority,
- Taking care of a dependent who is sick with or has COVID-19 symptoms, or is self-isolating.

Everyone is asked to only leave their homes for essential reasons. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in contact with a positive case of the virus is asked to immediately self-isolate, get tested and remain in isolation until your test results are known.

Individuals who are required and told to self-isolate by public health staff but fail to do so can be charged and fined from $750 up to $5,000 per day. As well, you can be fined between $750 and $1,000 for not complying with the stay-at-home orders or not wearing a face covering when required.

The Class Order under Section 22 and the Health Protection and Promotion Act also state that the NWHU can go to court to seek an order to confine a person within a hospital or appropriate facility until the self-isolation period is over, to protect the health of the community.

The Northwestern Health Unit’s initial announcement of the new orders on May 11 was under an embargo until May 12 at 10 a.m.