A public health unit in southwestern Ontario said Sunday that it would soon reduce gathering limits and encourage work-from-home measures as the region faces a surge of COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, medical officer of health for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, issued a letter of instruction on Sunday detailing the new measures.

“Given the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on the region of Windsor-Essex … I am issuing these instructions to control the spread of COVID-19,” Nesathurai wrote.

The new measures, which go beyond provincial regulations, take effect on Friday at 12:01 a.m. and will remain in place until further notice, Nesathurai said.

They impose a maximum of 10 people allowed to participate in a social gathering indoors, with exceptions for weddings and funerals, and a maximum of 25 people if the gathering is held outdoors.

Gatherings associated with a wedding, funeral or religious service or ceremony must ensure assigned seating for all attendees and that everyone wears a mask or face covering, except when at their assigned seat and consuming food or beverages. Capacity is limited so physical distancing can be maintained.

People should also keep a list of the names and numbers of all attendees of a social gathering and make them available immediately upon request by the public health unit.

Among other measures, businesses and organizations must review workplace safety plans with their employees at least once per month and make adjustments as needed. They must also enable remote work for employees, where possible, and limit the gathering of employees.

Restaurants and bars, along with meeting and event spaces, must limit their indoor capacity to 50 per cent to enable physical distancing and post visible signage indicating the number of people permitted based on this limit.

Nesathurai noted that failing to comply with provincial requirements and those identified under the letter of instruction is an offence under the Reopening Ontario Act, for which a person, business or organization may be liable.

The new measures come in the wake of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, along with three local hospitals and local paramedics, warning about strained acute care and hospital capacity issues.

In a joint statement released Friday, the groups said there’s been a recent surge in both COVID-19 patients and other respiratory ailments.

They said patients should expect wait times and treatment for anything other than emergencies to be much longer than usual, and that those who do not have emergencies should seek care elsewhere, such as family doctors and clinics, to help alleviate pressure on the hospitals.

They also said they’re seeing a dramatic increase in young children with severe respiratory issues needing an immediate higher level of care, noting that 11 children with respiratory syncytial virus had to be transferred from the Windsor Regional Hospital to hospitals in either London, Ont., or Detroit.

“We must work to preserve capacity in our healthcare system for patients. Our local partners will continue to collaborate to ensure our regional system is able to handle an influx of patients that will challenge our capacity to ensure timely access to care,” the groups said in the statement.

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