Just a day after the Government of Ontario announced that they’re putting a rush on boosters and capping attendance at large venues, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health announced that they were going further with new COVID precautions. By order of Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer, starting Monday, anyone that can work from home needs to start working from home as the effort to slow Omicron ramps up.
The new order was announced on Thursday afternoon. “Each person responsible for a business or organization that is open shall ensure that any person who performs work for the business or organization conducts their work remotely, unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site at the workplace,” the order says.
The orders don’t apply to government services or the healthcare sector, and for any workers that can’t work from home, public health is recommending that businesses use virtual meetings whenever possible, to practice physical distancing in lunch and break rooms, and to stagger those lunch and break times so that workers aren’t packing staff rooms while being unmasked and eating.
“At this time I cannot provide you with an ‘end-date’ for these Instructions. My current expectation, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, is that they will be in place over the holiday season,” Mercer said. “It is not possible at this time to account for the potential impact of the Omicron variant of concern, about which much is currently being learned. I may amend these instructions (if and as required) and will rescind them as soon I determine they are no longer necessary.”
The new orders go into effect on Monday December 20.
The formal Letter of Instruction from the Medical Officer of Health goes further than advice from the Associate MoH Dr. Matthew Tenenbaum posted just yesterday. Tenenbaum recommended that local businesses tighten up their COVID precautions, but fell short of telling those businesses to start moving their employees to a work from home option.
“Businesses have played a key role keeping our community safe over the course of this pandemic,” Tenenbaum said. “Your actions have protected the health, lives and livelihoods of your staff and patrons. Public Health is grateful to have our business community as a partner as our whole region tackles this global pandemic.”
The University of Guelph, which announced yesterday that they were delaying the start of in-person classes until near the end of January, quickly released a statement that said they would be supporting the new public order, and that all employees will move to working from home with the exception of animal care, maintenance, food services and health care staff.
“Depending on the status of the public health directive, employees performing critical on-site and time-sensitive work will return to on-site work Jan. 4, and employees who can work from home and who are not needed on campus to support in-person activities will continue to work from home until Jan. 24,” the statement said.
In terms of local schools, which will end learning for the year on Friday, there’s still some uncertainly about whether or not young people will be going back to in-person learning in January. The Wellington Catholic District School Board has told parents that they’re still anticipating a return to in-person schooling in the new year unless they hear differently from the Ministry of Education.
The Upper Grand District School Board in their own letter to parents said that they need to be prepared for a “wide range of circumstances”, and while they hope parents and students enjoy the holiday break, they will also have to wait and see what happens in advance of the return to school on January 3.
“In the past, you will be aware we have had to change learning models quickly when COVID-19 cases have surged,” the letter said. “As always, it is important to be prepared for any changes and schools are prepared to do so, should we find ourselves in that situation again. Should we be required to make the switch to remote learning, we would message families in the same way we did previously through our websites, automated voice-messages and through social media. Please be on alert for any messages from the school over the holidays.