LONDON, ONT. -- The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) has introduced new measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 impacting fitness, personal service, restaurant and banquet hall facilities.

The new measures, which continue until they’re rescinded, add new distancing, masking and capacity protocols for those businesses, and essentially ban some activities.

At restaurants, bars, banquet halls, food trucks/concessions starting Oct. 24:

  • no more than six people per table indoors or outdoors
  • patrons must be seated at all times except to enter/exit, place/pickup/pay for an order or use the washroom
  • tables must be separated by at least two metres or a Plexiglas/impermeable barrier
  • contact information must be recorded for all patrons, except for takeout, and kept for at least one month and disclosed only to the health unit or a health inspector

Protocols for indoor sports and fitness facilities, including gyms, health clubs, community centres, arenas and dance studios, among others, starting Oct. 24 now include:

  • maximum fitness class size of 12, plus three staff/referees/instructors*
  • 25 participants for sports fields, arenas, basketball courts, indoor soccer fields including staff/referees/instructors* (i.e. 25 people ona single ice pad divided into groups of no more than 12, maximum of 12 allowed on roster for sports where substitutions required)
  • players on sidelines must stay two metres apart*
  • if not wearing a helmet, face covering should be work when not actively participating*
  • people exercising in a fixed spot like yoga or spin class must remain three metres apart*
  • each class must be in a separate room or at least three metres away*
  • instructors must wear a face covering or teach virtually, and should use a microphone, no singing or shouting*
  • patrons must stay two metres away from each other, or three metres during a class
  • heating, venting and air conditioning must be maintained as per provincial regulations
  • steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools and bathhouses must be closed

(Note: Items marked * updated/added Oct. 23 based on MLHU revision.)

For personal service businesses, including spas, hair or nail salons, esthetics, tanning, piercing and tattoo studios, starting Oct. 29:

  • staff members must wear medical-grade procedural mask and face shield for services that require the client to remove their mask*
  • all staff must wear appropriate PPE and employees who cannot wear a mask or face covering are not permitted to have direct contact with clients*
  • owners must inform staff who provide personal care services of increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 when providing a service that requires the client to remove their mask*
  • locker rooms, change rooms, showers must be closed other than to access other areas of the business
  • oxygen bars and multi-participant steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools and bathhouses must be closed*
  • isolation float or salt pools intended for one person may continue to operate*

(Note: Items marked * updated/added Oct. 27 based on MLHU revision.)

Failure to comply with these requirements could bring fines up to $5,000 a day, or up to $25,000 for businesses.

MLHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie says that these measures are intended to keep businesses open, and are being applied only to industries where there has been evidence of COVID-19 spread.

He adds that they will help avoid reverting to a modified Stage 2 and, “These are the sorts of interventions that can prevent spread...We aren't going to sit around and wait for a huge outbreak in our community before taking some reasonable actions.”

Londoners react to new protocols

Bob Douglas, London senior hockey convener, says with their season starting just two weeks ago, the new protocols are “terrible.”

“We have no problems here, and we were going by the code of everything and no one was in trouble. We thought we were doing a good job and we definitely weren't the cause of the problem.”

He is concerned that with only 10 people allowed on the ice and distancing required, games will be more like free skating than hockey.

"It’s terribly disappointing. We have just over 300 players who are going to be sitting at home."

Mackie says that given that there are already provincial prohibitions on contact sports, the local protocols should not make a significant difference to how activities are conducted.

"Those two groups of 10 would have to be separated by at least nine metres. I'm having a hard time playing hockey while keeping nine metre separation up."

But within hours of the new protocols being introduced, a new online petition began calling for minor hockey to be allowed to continue without the new restrictions, saying they put more stress on the children involved.

Alec Pinchen, owner of Fitness Forum, says while it won’t get any easier, they are already doing a lot to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including spacing equipment and reducing hours.

"We are going to have to take a hard look at the guidelines…In the classes we are restricting numbers, based on social distancing. People are scheduling in, we close regularly, we clean…I think we are doing a lot and hopefully the new restrictions won't put a lot more work on us."

He says their saunas, whirlpools, etc. have been closed since July.

"We're real strong proponents that you should be exercising and build up your immunity against this virus, and yet we get a lot of publicity not to go to the gym…I'm sure (Mackie) has a tough call, but I’m unaware of any outbreaks in the facilities."

As for whether any financial support is available for impacted businesses since the protocols are local and not provincial, London Mayor Ed Holder says he's "not aware of the City of London or Middlesex County providing funds."