Photo By: Anastase Maragos from Unsplash

Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH) has released a new letter containing a series of instructions directed to sports and recreational fitness centres to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

These instructions define the rules that both the operators and users of these facilities in the region must follow, as well as consequences for noncompliance. Individuals and businesses who fail to comply with these guidelines may face charges under the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020. If charged, the fine is $750 for individuals and $1000 for businesses.

While the letter is more extensive, it primarily outlines the restricting of capacity in the greatest risk parts of these facilities to promote physical distancing and decrease the spread of COVID-19. 

Though capacity limits in these settings were previously removed as the province began requiring proof of full vaccination for access, many have entered using false vaccine certificates and illegitimate medical exemptions, prompting their reintroduction in Niagara.  

Additionally, operators of these institutions are now required to verify proof of vaccination for everyone aged 12 and above on each entry, unless they have a valid medical exemption. This vaccination requirement will also be enforced by NRPH for all vaccine-eligible employees of these facilities. Employees can either present identification and proof of being completely vaccinated against COVID-19 on a single occasion, or follow a schedule of frequent rapid antigen COVID-19 tests to attend work.

This letter has been issued primarily as a result of an increase in COVID-19 cases across the province, as well as the fact that for the past few weeks in Niagara, children over the age of 12 have been at the highest risk of infection. Participation in sporting events, according to the NRPH, has become a substantial contributor to cases of infection, with as many as six outbreaks connected to these activities.

Though the letter was released on Dec. 2, changes to the capacity limits of high-risk areas in the region’s sports, athletic and recreational facilities will come into effect as of Dec. 10, 2021, while changes to the vaccination policy will come into effect on Dec. 25. These requirements will currently only be in effect until Jan. 17, 2022 when Ontario’s proof of vaccine requirements are set to expire. However, it is likely that both the provincial and regional requirements will be extended in the wake of the Omicron variant that is now spreading across the world.

Because these are instructions specifically for the use of facilities in Niagara, sports groups in the region are responsible for ensuring that teams and representatives from other areas that visit for the purpose of a game or competition are made aware of these requirements.

Residents who want to read the full document released by NRPH are able to do so on their website. Those with questions or concerns about these instructions are encouraged to contact NRPH via phone at 905-688-3762 between 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Alternatively, residents can receive support via email by submitting this form online.