Sudbury’s health unit issues work-from-home order, stronger recommendations for schools

·7 min read

Public Health Sudbury and Districts announced on Friday that it is once again implementing further measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

In a release, the health unit said that COVID-19 case rates in the Sudbury district remain “unacceptably high” and the regiob is among the “top three most affected jurisdictions in Ontario.”

As a result, effective on Monday, Nov. 29, at 12:01 a.m., businesses and organizations in the City of Greater Sudbury will be required to ensure that workers are conducting their work remotely, unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site at the workplace.

Public Health is also partnering with area school boards to introduce “voluntary” Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) screening of students.

Other strongly recommended actions include RAT screening or proof of vaccination for students participating in certain extra-curricular sports, strengthened health and safety measures, and mandatory daily confirmation of symptom screening at schools.

“We have carefully reviewed recent data and consulted with the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe.

“Although school-based cases and household spread are currently driving our continued high case counts, cases continue to be reported among young adults, social settings, and workplaces. It seems hard to find a setting that is not impacted.”

Sutcliffe said the health unit’s response needs to be “widespread” considering the broad circulation of the virus in the community.

“(We need to) reduce mobility and face-to-face interactions overall. This is the purpose of the work-from-home instructions,” she said.

“Further, every sector needs to do their part, voluntarily at this time, to pave the path to lower case rates and re-opening.”

The health unit previously strengthened local protective measures by reinstating capacity limits and physical distancing requirements on Nov. 8.

Sutcliffe said these measures have “suppressed rapid growth in cases,” but the high case rates continue to threaten health and the health care system, in-person learning, and local transition to a “reopened” community.

As a result, "Public Health Sudbury and Districts is announcing a measured and responsible approach to the current situation. COVID-19 is not to be underestimated,” she said.

Sutcliffe said that the highly transmissible Delta variant requires as many layers of protections as possible.

“We have high vaccine coverage rates and are now offering vaccines to elementary school-aged children. It is truly remarkable how far we have come,” she said.

“To improve protections, Public Health will be tightening up our protocols for contact follow-up such that, in certain circumstances, some people, even if they are fully immunized, will be required to self-isolate.”

The health unit will also require unvaccinated children to stay at home if they have an unvaccinated family member exposed to a case.

“We have to behave with the knowledge that every action matters. This means that every layer of protection we can put on ourselves and our family members reduces our chances of getting infected, and possibly developing serious acute or long-term symptoms,” said Sutcliffe.

There have been 38 COVID-related deaths in the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Of these, seven people have died in the last five weeks,” said Sutcliffe.

“Notably, and a change from what we were seeing earlier in the pandemic, is that five of those individuals who lost their lives since late-October were in their 50s and 60s, further highlighting everyone’s vulnerability when COVID-19 is given the opportunity to spread.”

Public Health is urging residents to limit their outings, work from home, get vaccinated, wear face masks, and keep two metres distance from anyone outside your immediate 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,” the health unit said.

“With the holiday season fast approaching, these directions should guide your decisions on any pre-holiday celebrations.”

The health unit’s COVID-19 instructions have been issued under the Reopening Ontario Act. They have been published in an updated Letter of Instruction written by Sutcliffe.

In addition to the work-from-home order, local businesses and organizations will be expected to take “every available precaution” to conduct business in the safest way possible.

“For example, implementing vaccination policies, strengthening masking requirements, and ensuring physical distancing in addition to daily symptom screening for employees and patrons, staying home even when mildly ill, and getting tested,” the health unit said.

Public Health is also recommending that businesses and organizations limit outings and avoid in-person gatherings, both social and professional.

The health unit will provide a “workplace checklist” to help businesses plan COVID-safe gatherings virtually or in-person.

Residents are reminded that a Class Order (enforceable by law) currently requires all individuals who are either a case, potential case or contact of a case to follow public health direction related to self-isolation and testing.

The health unit will take a stronger approach for follow-up with close contacts of a confirmed case.

“These measures can help reduce the risk in settings where transmission is higher (for example, in households), where more a transmissible variant may be present or where there is heightened concern for transmission to vulnerable populations,” said a press release.

All measures related to contact tracing will come into effect on Nov. 29.

Those who are either fully vaccinated or have tested positive for COVID-9 within the last 90 days will be required to self-isolate if they are exposed to COVID-19 under the following circumstances:

- Exposure to a breakthrough case (a case of COVID-19 in someone who is fully immunized).

- Exposure to a household member who is a case of COVID-19.

• If they are associated with a vulnerable setting (congregate living settings and childcare centres, for example).

“Students and staff who are protected and exposed to a case of COVID-19 may return to school if they are symptom-free but are not permitted to participate in extracurricular activities within the school or in the community for 10 days following the dismissal date,” the health unit said.

“This is in addition to testing instructions and direction to monitor for symptoms.”

Children who are not protected against COVID-19 and have an unprotected household member who is self-isolating must stay at home for the duration of the isolation period.

“Stay-at-home does not mean self-isolation, but it means not gathering with others outside of the household who are not fully vaccinated,” said the health unit.

“Those that are identified as high-risk close contacts will continue to receive a letter from Public Health Sudbury and Districts advising of an exposure and steps that must be taken.”

RAT screening has been deployed in schools with high case rates. Area school boards will provide additional details to elementary and secondary school families regarding availability.

“RAT screening is intended for students who are not fully vaccinated, are asymptomatic, and who are not considered high-risk close contacts, meaning they are not part of a dismissed cohort or otherwise advised by Public Health to self-isolate,” the release said.

“Students who test positive using a RAT must not attend school and must complete follow-up PCR testing for confirmation of COVID-19.”

The Ministry of Education will require daily on-site confirmation of symptom screening prior to or upon arrival at school for at least two weeks following the winter break.

Sudbury’s health unit is strongly recommending that local schools implement this process as soon as possible and no later than Dec. 1.

Additional recommendations include:

- Virtual only assemblies in all area schools.

- Mandatory masking for students while outdoors.

- Maintaining distancing between cohorts when outdoors.

- Pausing school field trips that require group transportation and that are not outdoors.

- Limiting visitors in schools and strict protocols for anyone entering the premises.

“Public Health is strongly recommending that RAT screening, where proof of vaccination cannot be provided, for students and coaches prior to participation as an additional risk reduction strategy,” the release said.

School boards will have full responsibility for implementing this policy.

RAT screening is recommended for those aged five to 11. Proof of vaccination or RAT screening is recommended for those aged 12 and over.

Where RAT screening is implemented, the requirement for testing is three times weekly or within 48 hours of sports engagement.

Public Health is also working closely with area schools to offer school-based COVID-19 vaccination clinics in the coming weeks.

For more information visit www.phsd.ca or call 705-522-9200.

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @SudburyStar

Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star

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