Peggy Sattler MPP, London West

Government of Ontario
 

Hello Neighbour,

I hope you had a safe and restful holiday break, despite the discouraging start to 2022.

Yesterday the government announced new measures to address the extreme transmissibility of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, including the closure of schools to in-person learning until at least January 17, the cancellation of non-urgent surgeries and procedures, and the shutdown of indoor dining and recreation and fitness facilities.

There is no question that many families, kids and workers will be badly hurt by these new restrictions. Burnt-out and exhausted health care workers will struggle to deal with rising hospitalizations, as more and more of their coworkers fall ill or are self-isolating. Already backlogged surgeries and treatments will again be postponed, and people's livelihoods will be at risk from reduced hours, layoffs or businesses going under. As in previous lockdowns, the government knew that this was coming but didn’t take the actions necessary to enable schools to safely reopen and to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed.

For workers who stand to lose shifts and precious income just as benefits expire and the eviction ban is lifting, things will feel desperate once again. Restaurants, bars and small businesses in our community are facing the very real threat of closure and layoffs without government support. After being told just four days earlier that schools will open on January 5, parents of school-aged children will scramble to find child care or be forced to juggle working at home (if they have that option) with supervising online learning. Teachers and education workers have just hours to pivot to remote learning, an option that fails the many students who struggle to learn online.

This current crisis was avoidable. But since we cannot reverse the government’s decisions, my colleagues and I will continue to push the government to provide the help that Ontarians need to get through the crisis safely.

Please know that I hear you, and will continue to advocate on your behalf to get the supports you need. Below please find the details of the changes that take effect on Wednesday. I've also included what my colleagues and I are putting forward as we push for better.

This is not the news we had hoped for as we usher in a new year, but we will get through this. I welcome hearing your thoughts, questions and concerns, and thank you for your patience as my staff and I work to get back to the many emails and enquiries we are receiving each day. 

Stay safe and take care,

My community office is available to help with provincial programs and services by phone at 519-657-3120 or by email at [email protected] In-person appointments for urgent matters can be arranged by appointment. 

 
In this newsletter:
 
 

Ontario Temporarily Moving to Modified Step Two of COVID-19 Measures

Effective Wednesday, January 5, 2022 at 12:01 a.m. for at least 21 days (until January 26, 2022), the province will return to a modified version of Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen.

Changes include:

  • Reducing social gathering limits to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors.
  • Limiting capacity at organized public events to five people indoors.
  • Requiring businesses and organizations to ensure employees work remotely unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site.
  • Limiting capacity at indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites and ceremonies to 50 per cent capacity of the particular room. Outdoor services are limited to the number of people that can maintain 2 metres of physical distance. Social gatherings associated with these services must adhere to the social gathering limits.
  • Retail settings, including shopping malls, permitted at 50 per cent capacity. For shopping malls physical distancing will be required in line-ups, loitering will not be permitted and food courts will be required to close.
  • Personal care services permitted at 50 per cent capacity and other restrictions. Saunas, steam rooms, and oxygen bars closed.
  • Closing indoor meeting and event spaces with limited exceptions but permitting outdoor spaces to remain open with restrictions.
  • Public libraries limited to 50 per cent capacity.
  • Closing indoor dining at restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments. Outdoor dining with restrictions, takeout, drive through and delivery is permitted.
  • Restricting the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. and the consumption of alcohol on-premise in businesses or settings after 11 p.m. with delivery and takeout, grocery/convenience stores and other liquor stores exempted.
  • Closing indoor concert venues, theatres, cinemas, rehearsals and recorded performances permitted with restrictions.
  • Closing museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions, amusement parks and waterparks, tour and guide services and fairs, rural exhibitions, and festivals. Outdoor establishments permitted to open with restrictions and with spectator occupancy, where applicable, limited to 50 per cent capacity.
  • Closing indoor horse racing tracks, car racing tracks and other similar venues. Outdoor establishments permitted to open with restrictions and with spectator occupancy limited to 50 per cent capacity. Boat tours permitted at 50 per cent capacity.
  • Closing indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities including gyms, except for athletes training for the Olympics and Paralympics and select professional and elite amateur sport leagues. Outdoor facilities are permitted to operate but with the number of spectators not to exceed 50 per cent occupancy and other requirements.

The Chief Medical Officer of Health will also reinstate Directive 2 for hospitals and regulated health professionals, instructing hospitals to pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity.

Please view the regulations for the full list of mandatory public health and workplace safety measures. Businesses who have questions about public health and workplace safety measures can call the Stop the Spread Business Information Line at 1-888-444-3659.

These changes are prompted by projections that our hospitals will be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients as Omicron cases continue to rise, but we need to do much more. I am calling for action to shore up health care, including repealing low-wage policies like Bill 124, that are driving health care workers away, and giving all health care workers a danger pay bonus. We are also urging the provincial government to call in the Canadian Armed Forces, especially CAF medical personnel, to support understaffed hospitals.

We must also do more to stop the spread, like ensuring every person in Ontario has access to adequate paid sick days and family care days, and that all frontline essential workers have free N95 masks and other PPE. We also need to get financial help to workers that lose income and businesses that are impacted by restrictions, and we need a ban on evictions. Only when these measures are in place can people follow advice to stay home when sick and protect themselves and others when working.

 

School Closures

Students in public schools across the province will be learning remotely until January 17, an announcement that came only yesterday when students and teachers were expecting to return to class tomorrow. In addition, two memos from Ontario’s Ministry of Education confirmed that the Ford government will suspend reporting of COVID-19 cases in child care and schools — a decision that is terrifying for parents. Now is a time when families need more transparency and information on how they can protect their children, and burying our heads in the sand puts families at risk.

Children's mental, emotional, and academic well-being depends on schools being open and safe. I know that students, families and education workers are frustrated by the government's last-minute announcements and half-measures, and their utter failure to put a plan in place to ensure a safe return in two weeks. What makes this even more infuriating is that the government knew what was coming, but chose not to prepare schools. They didn't want to make the investments, even when the federal government provided billions of dollars that could have been put to good use keeping kids safe.

We could have prevented this, and I am calling for urgent action including the following:

  • Smaller class sizes and busloads
  • Continued contact tracing and reporting of school and child care cases
  • In-school vaccine clinics with permission from parents
  • Mandatory vaccination for all teachers and education workers and adding the COVID vaccine to the student immunization list
  • A steady supply of free rapid tests for students and staff
  • Improved ventilation in every classroom where it is needed
  • Paid sick days and family care days, so no one has to go to school sick
 

PCR Testing and Contact Management Updates

On December 30, the government updated its COVID-19 testing and isolation guidelines, and will now significantly limit who can get tested in the province. Key changes include the following:

  • Symptomatic testing will be available only for high-risk individuals, and individuals who work in high-risk settings
  • Individuals with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 are presumed positive and they should follow isolation and/or self-monitoring guidelines, and are not necessarily eligible for tests
  • Testing for asymptomatic contacts of cases is generally no longer recommended, except for high-risk contacts/individuals that are part of confirmed or suspected outbreaks in high-risk settings, as recommended by public health
  • Positive rapid antigen tests will no longer require PCR confirmation
  • Individuals with COVID-19 should isolate for only five days if they are fully vaccinated or under the age of 12, as long as their symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours.

These limitations make it impossible for vulnerable people in our community to protect themselves, and for all of us to do our part to keep our families and neighbours safe. I am calling for the government to reverse this decision to withhold COVID testing from millions of people, substantially ramp up booster shots immediately, and invest in stronger contact tracing. 

 

New Legislation in 2022

There are several important legislative changes coming into effect at that start of this year. If you have questions about how any of these changes may impact you, please be in touch.
 

Rent Freeze Ends

Ontario's rent increase guideline, which is the maximum most residential landlords can increase rent this year, is 1.2%, marking an end to the rent freeze put in place to help people keep their homes through the pandemic. In most cases, the rent for a residential unit can be increased up to once every 12 months and requires 90 days written notice. If you have questions about a rent increase, please contact my community office.
 

Minimum Wage is now $15

As of January 1, the minimum wage for most workers in Ontario is now $15 per hour. This includes liquor servers, who will at long last no longer be subjected to a sub-minimum wage, but it does not include students working less than 28 hours/week or on school breaks, whose minimum wage is now $14.10 per hour.
 

Staycation Tax Credit

During 2022, Ontarians can get a 20% personal income tax credit on eligible hotel, cottage, and campground expenses in the province of Ontario, up to a maximum of $1,000 for an individual or $2,000 for a family, resulting in a maximum credit of $200 or $400 respectively.
 

Tow Truck Rules

A four-year pilot project will put restrictions in place on highways 401, 427, 409, 400 and the QEW to allow only specific towing companies to provide services on those roads. If your car breaks down on one of those roads, you can call 511 and select "Tow Zone Pilot" to reach an authorized tow company. In an emergency, call 911.
 

Increased Traffic Fines

Effective January 1, the province has hiked administrative fines for highway traffic offences such as careless driving, stunt driving, speeding, leaving the scene of an accident, failing to stop for a police officer or driving with a suspended licence. When a person's license is suspended as a result of one of these offences, the fine is now $250 for a first offence, $350 for a second and $450 for a third within five years. 
 

Tiny Homes

Building Code amendments now define and facilitate the construction of tiny homes, and clarify that remote inspections may be used to increase flexibility and help increase Ontario's housing supply.
 

Rowan's Law

Effective January 1, Rowan's Law is expanded so that youth sports clubs must have policies in place regarding both removal of youth from sport and return to play when it comes to head injuries.
 

Teacher Training

As of January 3, all 130,000 teachers in Ontario and those wanting to teach in the province must take a three-hour online sexual abuse prevention program, free of charge, that was developed with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. Current teachers have until the end of August to complete the program, and must earn a grade of at least 80 per cent.

 

 

2022 Budget Consultations

The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs will be holding pre-budget consultations this month. This is an opportunity for Ontarians to have their say in the province's budget priorities. Virtual hearings for Southwestern Ontario stakeholders will be held on Friday, January 21, and the deadline to request to appear is Monday, January 10 at 6pm.

If you or your organization would like to speak at the hearing or provide a written submission, you can register here. Please be sure to let me know that you have registered and share your written submission with me at [email protected]

 

COVID-19 Developments

  • The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) will be following the Province’s updated COVID-19 testing and isolation guidance and will also be changing how it reports and manages new cases. This includes changing the isolation period for all individuals who are vaccinated, as well as children under the age of 12, to five days following the onset of symptoms; prioritizing Rapid Antigen Tests for health care and the highest risk settings; and PCR testing only for symptomatic individuals at high-risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including those who work in long-term care and retirement homes. 
     
  • Effective December 30, 2021, access to long-term care homes by general visitors is paused, and day absences for all residents for social purposes are paused. Designated caregivers may continue to enter long-term care homes.
     
  • Evolving data from Public Health Ontario is showing that while the Omicron variant is less severe, its high transmissibility has resulted in a larger number of hospital admissions relative to ICU admissions. Real-world experience and evidence in Ontario reveal that approximately 1in 100 Omicron cases require hospital care. The rapid rise of Omicron cases, which may soon number in the hundreds of thousands, could result in the province’s hospital capacity becoming overwhelmed if further action isn’t taken to curb transmission.
     
  • The Ontario COVID-19 Science Table has released a science brief that responds to the questions asked most frequently about the fifth wave of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant. Click here to read it.
     
  • Based on the recommendations from the Ontario Immunization Advisory Committee, the province has made fourth doses of mRNA vaccines available to residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, Elder Care Lodges and other congregate care settings if at least three months, or 84 days, have passed since their third dose. In addition, the province is mandating third doses for all staff, students, volunteers, caregivers and support workers by January 28, 2022 for those currently eligible for a booster, and will be requiring visitors to provide proof of a booster dose once the temporary pause on general visitors is lifted.

Everyone born in 2016 or earlier is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario, and everyone aged 18 and over is now eligible for a third booster dose.

  • Make an appointment at an MLHU mass vaccination clinic
    • Call the Boys & Girls Club transit services at 519-434-9119 (8am - 5:30pm, Monday to Friday) to book a ride if you have mobility issues and cannot get to a clinic yourself
    • You can also get vaccinated in your car at a mass clinic (call 226-289-3560 to book, 8am - 7:30pm, Monday - Friday)
  • Visit a walk-in pop-up clinic
  • Make an appointment at a participating pharmacy
  • If you cannot leave your home, arrange a vaccination at home (call 519-663-5317, 8am - 7:30pm, Monday - Friday)
For the most up-to-date information, please refer to linked sources and the COVID-19 information provided at the Middlesex-London Health Unit website, COVID-19.Ontario.ca, London.ca/covid-19, Canada.ca/coronavirus. You can also find a range of helpful resources on my website at peggysattler.ca/covid19resources.