Last updated: January 14, 2021 at 4:35 p.m.

On January 4, 2021, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health issued a Letter of Instruction to all employers in the City of Toronto permitted to be open under the Reopening Ontario Act. Employers permitted to be open are required to take the additional measures set out in this Letter to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Extreme cold weather conditions can adversely affect the health and well-being of many of Toronto’s residents. Some of the health impacts of cold weather include hypothermia, frostbite, frostnip, and trench foot. Emergency warming centres can provide relief and protection for vulnerable groups who may be at an increased risk from the direct health impacts of cold weather.

This guidance is intended to help owners, operators and volunteers in emergency warming centres, such as those operated by the City of Toronto, to reduce the spread of COVID-19. More information about COVID-19 can be found in the Toronto Public Health (TPH) COVID-19 Fact Sheet.

Responsibility of owners & operators before opening

Owners and operators of emergency warming centres are responsible for ensuring that their facility is in compliance with these public health guidelines, and all emergency orders made under the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020. As every emergency warming centre will be different, it is the responsibility of owners and operators to review their own policies and procedures, assess their facility and operations, and implement measures to reduce the risk of infection among staff, volunteers, and clients.

COVID-19 Transmission

Respiratory transmission: COVID-19 is an illness that is spread mainly from person-to-person through close contact from respiratory droplets of someone with COVID-19. The respiratory droplets can travel up to two metres/six feet when we cough, sneeze or talk.

Contaminated surfaces: It is possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. The virus can survive on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for up to 72 hours.

Protective Measures to Keep Everyone Safe

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Keep a two metre/six feet distance from those you don’t live with.
  • Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Wear a face mask or covering when you are in indoor public spaces, as per the provincial requirements and City bylaw, and when you cannot maintain a two metre/six foot distance outdoors.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Train staff

  • All staff must be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with COVID-19.
  • Staff should receive clear instructions on the mask bylaw and understand who is exempted from wearing a mask. Proof of exemption is not required.
  • Educate staff on the proper use of masks/face coverings. Masks should be changed when moist or dirty, and in areas away from customers (e.g. lunch room, private office). More information on use of non-medical masks or face coverings is found below.
  • Discourage staff from gathering together in the lunchroom or common areas.
  • Educate staff on hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • Staff should be trained to contact emergency services (i.e. 911) should a person experience severe illness requiring medical attention.
  • Additional resources for staff training are available from Public Health Ontario.

Prepare the emergency warming centre

  • Modify and arrange site/floor plan to maintain physical distancing and reduce contact within the emergency warming centre.
  • Calculate the maximum number of people permitted in the emergency warming centres that allows for two metres/six feet physical distancing, or complies with provincial gathering limits, which ever is less.
    • To calculate the maximum occupancy for physical distancing in an emergency warming centre calculate one person per two metres squared (four square metres or 43 square feet) of publicly accessible floor space.
  • Configure the emergency warming centre to allow for adequate physical distancing:
    • Arrange chairs/seating/cots at least two metres/six feet apart and/or place signs in fixed seating spaces.
    • Mark seating locations with tape on the floor so that seating can be repositioned easily.
    • Consider creating separate spaces for family units (i.e. families who live together do not need to maintain physical distancing between each other), and for people with pets.
  • Design a walking flow for the emergency warming centre (e.g. creating one-way routes with prominent signage and/or floor markings every two metres/six feet), where appropriate (e.g. entrances, washrooms).
  • Provide chairs/furniture that are easy to clean and disinfect.
  • Post signs in high visibility areas indicating the maximum number of people permitted in the emergency warming centre at any one time (e.g. entrances, washrooms).
  • Download information and display posters in high-visibility areas in your setting to promote messages about how to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Designate a health screening area

  • Designate an area near the main entrance of the emergency warming centre as a screening station.
    • The area should be clearly identified as the screening station.
    • Post signs in a visible location clearly explaining the screening process, and the rules and conditions for entry (see the Posters for Entrances as an example).
  • The area must allow for a distance of at least two metres/six feet between staff conducting in-person screening and the individual being screened.
  • Alternatively, a protective barrier (e.g. plexiglass) may be used around the screening station.
  • Staff conducting the screening must wear appropriate personal protective equipment (e.g. mask, eye protection).
  • Use visual markers/cues spaced at least two metres/six feet apart (e.g. tape on the floor, pylons, signs) to assist staff and clients in keeping their distance if waiting to be screened.
  • Make 70-90% alcohol-based hand sanitizer available for use at the screening station.
  • Consider having extra masks available for individuals arriving at the emergency warming centre without a mask.

Designate an alternate room/space for individuals with symptoms or with other high-risk exposures

  • Designate an alternate room/space which is separate from the main warming room/area to accommodate individuals who answered yes to any of the screening questions or develop symptoms while at the warming centre.
    • If an alternate room/space is not available for individuals with symptoms or with other high-risk exposures, consider creating a private space within the main warming room/area using dividers or curtains.
  • Where possible, the alternate room/space should have:
    • A separate entrance and exit.
    • A separate washroom.
    • Partitions separating individuals, in addition to other physical distancing measures.
  • Environmental cleaning and disinfection should be conducted after each use of the alternate room/space.

Screen staff and clients for COVID-19

  • Health screening must be conducted for all staff prior to every shift.
  • It is also strongly recommend that daily active in-person health screening is conducted for all individuals entering the emergency warming centre.
  • Individuals can be asked the screening questions or can complete a screening form prior to entry. See TPH’s sample screening form that can used.
  • Individuals who have answered yes to any of the questions should be provided with a non-medical mask if they do not have their own and be directed to the alternate room/space within the emergency warming centre.
    • Individuals with symptoms should be encouraged to seek testing at a COVID-19 assessment centre or to see their health care provider.

Maintain logs of staff and client information

  • It is strongly recommended that facilities maintain voluntary attendance records of all staff, visitors and families.
  • Toronto Public Health will use this list to help with contact tracing efforts in the event that a person tests positive or an outbreak is identified.
  • Your facility should:
    • Obtain a person’s consent to collect their personal information.
    • Inform them the information requested is voluntary.
    • Inform them of the purpose and legal authority for collecting this information.
    • Only collect personal information for COVID-19 contract tracing purposes, unless an individual provides their consent.
    • Protect the personal information you collect (e.g. locked drawer/office).
    • Keep records for 30 days, and then destroy the information (i.e. shred/delete).
  • Call TPH at 416-338-7600 if you have been notified that a staff, visitors and families has tested positive for COVID-19, and/or you have concerns that others may have been exposed while at the facility.

Support and encourage proper use of masks

  • The use of masks or face coverings is mandatory in all indoor public settings, as per Ontario Regulation 263/20 and City of Toronto By-law 541-2020.
  • Masks or face coverings are strongly recommended outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Facility owners and operators must develop a policy on the wearing of masks, as per City of Toronto By-Law 541-2020, and train staff on the policy.
  • Ontario Regulation 263/20 and City of Toronto By-law 541-2020 allow for certain exemptions, including children under two, people with health issues, people who are unable to put on a mask without assistance, and temporary removal of a mask or face covering while engaging in certain activities.
  • More information is available here.

Manage the flow of people to promote physical distancing

  • Discourage the unnecessary movement of people within the emergency warming centre.
  • Monitor the flow of people within the emergency warming centre, including washrooms and the alternate room/space, to ensure adherence to the posted capacity limit and that other requirements are being followed.
  • Stagger the flow of people entering and exiting the emergency warming centre to prevent crowding.
  • Assign a staff member to direct clients to seating areas as they become available.
  • Remind staff, families and visitors to maintain a physical distance of two metres (six feet) as best as possible. Members of the same household do not need to maintain physical distancing between each other.
  • Once the maximum number of people is reached, allow one person in for every person that leaves.

Support hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette

  • Post signs on proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • Avoid touching face, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Provide 70-90% alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers near entrances and other high-touch locations for visitors and staff use. Monitor and refill, as needed.
  • Provide additional supplies such as individual tissue packs and no-touch waste receptacles in appropriate areas/locations.
  • Ensure single-use items, including masks and gloves, are discarded immediately after use to reduce the risk of contamination.
  • Waste receptacles should be lined with a plastic bag and emptied as often as necessary.
  • Remind staff and clients not to share items, such as food, water bottles, equipment, toys, and supplies and encourage everyone to keep their distance as best as possible.

Enhance environmental cleaning and disinfection

  • Avoid opportunities for the virus to spread through touch, either directly or indirectly, on surfaces and objects.
  • Assign staff to complete environmental cleaning and disinfection duties.
  • Maintain a log to track these cleaning and disinfecting activities.
  • High traffic areas and frequently touched surfaces and objects (e.g. doorknobs, elevator buttons, light switches, toilet handles, countertops, hand rails) should be cleaned and disinfected by designated staff at least twice per day, and when visibly dirty.
  • Increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting washrooms, as required.
  • Clean and disinfect seating, furniture, cots and sleeping mats between each use.
  • Review Public Health Ontario’s Cleaning and Disinfection for Public Settings fact sheet.
  • Refer to Health Canada’s list of hard-surface disinfectants for information on disinfectants effective against COVID-19.

Use of cots for resting/sleeping

  • Where provided, cots should be arranged at least two metres/six feet apart, with alternating head to toe placement of beds, if space allows.
  • Consider the use of temporary barriers between cots (e.g. curtains) unless clients are part of the same household.
  • If space is available, put fewer people within the facility’s designated resting/sleeping space.
  • Masks are not required while sleeping at the emergency warming centre for health considerations.
  • Assign and track the use of cots nightly to help with contact tracing.

Maintain water fountains and bottle filling stations

  • Water fountains and bottle filling stations can be used provided they are cleaned and disinfected twice per day, or more often if needed.
  • Encourage staff and clients to bring their own water bottle to stay hydrated.

Increase communication with staff and clients

  • Inform staff and clients about the measures that have been implemented to protect them against COVID-19 such as using posters, websites, and other communication platforms.
  • Provide clients with information about COVID-19 and how to protect themselves from the effects of cold (e.g. Health Impacts of Extreme Cold Weather resource).
  • Designate a point of contact (e.g. supervisor) who will be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns from staff and clients.
  • Encourage staff, visitors and families to download the COVID Alert app. They will be notified directly if they have been in close contact with someone who was contagious with COVID-19.

Workplace Health and Safety

Review the Guidance for Employers on Preventing COVID-19 in the Workplace to plan and implement protocols to keep staff and customers safe, including:

  • Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
    • Instruct customers to wash their hands before and after sports and recreational activities and to use hand sanitizer when transitioning between pieces of equipment.
  • Health screening for staff and customers
    • Actively screen all individuals (staff and patrons etc.) entering the facility. Questions can be answered on paper, online or by asking people directly.
    • Temperature checks are not required or recommended.
  • Staff attendance and operations
  • Managing COVID-19 in the workplace

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems

  • Increase the introduction and circulation of outdoor air by maximizing the outdoor air ratio of the HVAC system settings, or by opening windows and doors, where possible. Avoid recirculating air.
  • Ensure the HVAC system(s) are properly maintained.
  • Where provided, use the highest efficiency filters that are compatible with the HVAC system.
  • Increase air-exchanges if possible.
  • Keep areas near HVAC inlets and outlets clear.
  • Seating and activities should be arranged away from areas with high airflow (i.e. not in front of air vents).
  • Facilities without HVAC systems should increase ventilation by opening windows and doors. However, do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety risk to staff and customers.
  • Rooms where ceiling fans are used should have an upward airflow rotation.
  • If portable fans are used, limit the blowing of air across people and surfaces by positioning them to provide an upward movement of air.
  • There is no evidence for the use of portable air purifiers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If used, follow the manufacturer’s directions (and possibly the advice of a service professional) to decide where best to place the device. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on maintenance.
  • For more information, review the COVID-19: Transmission, Aerosols and Ventilation fact sheet.

Download this information as a PDF.