Ontario, Canada: New COVID-19 Response Framework Will Take Effect November 7

Updated November 19, 2020

On November 13, 2020, Ontario announced that in response  to the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases and on the recommendation of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, it would update its new COVID-19 Response Framework, Keeping Ontario Safe and Open (New Framework) with lower thresholds for each of the five levels for:  weekly incidence rates, positivity rate, effective reproductive number (Rt), outbreak trends and the level of community transmission.  Based on these new thresholds, effective November 16, 2020, the following public health units were moved to the following levels in the framework:

  • Red-Control:
    • Hamilton Public Health Services
    • Halton Region Public Health
    • Toronto Public Health
    • York Region Public Health
  • Orange-Restrict:
    • Brant County Health Unit
    • Durham Region Health Department
    • Eastern Ontario Health Unit
    • Niagara Region Public Health
    • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health
    • Region of Waterloo Public Health
  • Yellow-Protect:
    • Huron Perth Public Health
    • Middlesex-London Health Unit
    • Public Health Sudbury & Districts
    • Southwestern Public Health
    • Windsor-Essex County Health Unit

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On November 6, 2020, Ontario filed Regulation 640/20.  Regulation 642/20 assigned most health units in Ontario to the Green or Yellow Zones of Stage 3, and Ottawa, York and Toronto to the Orange Zone.  Peel remained in Stage 2.  The amendments came into force on November 7, 2020; however, Toronto remained subject to Stage 2 Rules until November 13, 2020. 

New Requirement Regarding Personal Protective Equipment

Regulation 642/20 adds a new requirement for all businesses in Stages 2 and 3 relating to personal protective equipment (PPE).  Persons must wear PPE that protects their eyes, nose and mouth when they come within two metres of another person not wearing a mask or face covering and not separated by an impermeable barrier. 

Safety Plan Requirement  

Certain businesses in regional health units in Stage 2 or Yellow or Orange Zones of Stage 3 must prepare a safety plan, make it available, and post it in a conspicuous place.  The plan must describe: (a) measures and procedures implemented to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission; and (b) how the measures will be implemented (screening, physical distancing, masks or face coverings, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and objects, and wearing PPE).  The safety plan must be completed within seven days of the requirement applying to the business.  Businesses to which the safety plan requirement applies are:  meeting/event spaces; restaurants/bars; personal care services; shopping malls; sports and recreational facilities; theatres/cinemas; and casino/bingo halls.  

Additional Requirements/Restrictions

The businesses subject to the safety plan requirement have additional restrictions and requirements that depend on the nature of the business and the stage and zone of the health unit where they are located.  These restrictions and requirements include those pertaining to:  physical distancing; limits on capacity; operating hours; sound levels; and contact tracing.   

Special requirements also apply to retail businesses and schools of a specific nature.  

*  *  *

On November 3, 2020, Ontario announced a new COVID-19 Response Framework, Keeping Ontario Safe and Open (New Framework) that will be approved by Cabinet on November 6, 2020.  Public health units will be transitioned to the New Framework on November 7, 2020.   

Ontario describes the New Framework as “an early warning system allowing us to scale up and scale back public health restrictions on a regional or community basis in response to surges and waves of COVID-19.”  The New Framework avoids “broader closures across the province” in favour of “targeted, incremental and responsive” graduated public health measures informed by regional circumstances. 

The New Framework categorizes public health unit regions into the following five levels:

  • Green – Prevent (Standard Measures)
  • Yellow – Protect (Strengthened Measures)
  • Orange – Restrict (Intermediate Measures)
  • Red – Control (Stringent Measures)
  • Lockdown (Maximum Measures)

Public health units will be assigned to one of these levels based on the following:

  • Epidemiology, i.e., weekly incidence rate, % positivity, Ro,1 outbreak trends/observations, and level of community transmission/non-epi linked cases stable);
  • Health System Capacity (hospital and ICU capacity adequate); and
  • PH System Capacity (case and contact follow up within 24 hours adequate)

Requirements for gathering limits, workplace screening, and face coverings apply at all levels.  Each level sets out public health and safety measures for the following:

  • Restaurants, Bars and food or drink establishments;
  • Sports and recreational fitness;
  • Meeting and event spaces; 
  • Retail;
  • Personal care services;
  • Casinos, bingo halls, and gaming establishments;
  • Cinemas; and
  • Performing arts facilities

Proposed public health unit region classifications based on data for the week of October 26, 2020, are set out below.  (Updated data will be used for final review by the Chief Medical Officer of Health and approved by Cabinet on November 6, 2020.) 


  • No public health unit regions


  • No public health unit regions


  • Eastern Ontario Health Unit;
  • Ottawa Public Health;
  • Peel Public Health;
  • Toronto Public Health (may be delayed in entering Orange-Restrict level until November 14, 2020); and
  • York Region Public Health.


  • Brant County Health Unit;
  • City of Hamilton Public Health Services;
  • Durham Region Health Department; and
  • Halton Region Public Health.


  • Algoma Public Health;
  • Chatham-Kent Public Health;
  • Grey Bruce Health Unit;
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health;
  • Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit;
  • Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit;
  • Hastings Prince Edward Public Health;
  • Huron Perth Public Health;
  • Lambton Public Health;
  • Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit;
  • Middlesex-London Health Unit;
  • Niagara Region Public Health;
  • North Bay Parry Sound District;
  • Northwestern Health Unit;
  • Peterborough Public Health;
  • Porcupine Health Unit;
  • Public Health Sudbury & Districts;
  • Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services;
  • Renfrew County and District Health Unit;
  • Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit;
  • Southwestern Public Health;
  • Thunder Bay District Health Unit;
  • Timiskaming Health Unit;
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health; and
  • Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

The government will review final decisions about the levels assigned to public health unit regions weekly, and continually assess the impact of public health measures applied to public health unit regions for 28 days, or two COVID-19 incubation periods. 

Bottom Line for Employers

Employers are encouraged to seek up-to-date information regarding the levels in which their particular businesses operate based on geographic location.  This includes those businesses such as restaurants, retail, fitness, cinemas and gaming establishments as these restrictions may differ and be changed on a periodic and sometimes, rapid basis.

See Footnotes

​1 “Ro” specifies the average number of secondary infections caused by one infected individual during their entire infectious period at the start of an outbreak.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.