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Markham mayor has concerns about bars, gyms as parts of GTA enter Stage 3 of reopening
July 24, 2020
David Rider

As much of the GTA enters Stage 3 reopening, Markham is joining Toronto in expressing concern that provincial anti-virus rules aren’t stringent enough.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti told the Star he’s happy to see a financial lifeline for bars, gyms and theatres in York, Durham and Halton regions that, as of Friday, can re-open or expand previously limited activities.

But Scarpitti has concerns about bars and fitness clubs, given rising COVID-19 infection rates in some Ontario communities, particularly among young adults, after restrictions were loosened.

“Two metres outside on (bar) patios, that’s fine, but not in enclosed areas,” where respiratory droplets seem to spread infection more, Scarpitti said.

“I hope the Province will have a protocol that they will have a more than two-metre distance,” in bars and fitness clubs where people might expel more droplets.

In Stage 3, fitness clubs are restricted to 50 users at a time, regardless of size, with at least two metres of distancing. Rules for bars include no dancing.

John Tory, Mayor of Toronto, which will remain in Stage 2 with Peel Region and Windsor-Essex until at least next week, recently urged Premier Doug Ford to add six safety conditions for bars.

They include making masks mandatory for patrons, except when they are drinking or eating; no standing, except to come or go; and additional restrictions on capacity.

“We have seen, in other jurisdictions, that further reopening can lead to increased outbreaks of COVID-19 and growing case count numbers,” Tory wrote.

“We do not want to go in that direction.”

Ford and his ministers say any extra restrictions should come from local public health authorities. Municipalities counter that they are on firmer legal ground with a Provincial directive behind them.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of all Ontarians,” Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, said Thursday.

“We appreciate the City of Markham’s advice and will continue to work directly with them.”

At Queen’s Park, Ford said Tory and other mayors have made “great, valid points,” but COVID-19 rates vary widely across Ontario, so any extra rules should come from local authorities.

Drew Redden, chief executive of the Oakville Chamber of Commerce, said Oakville businesses are optimistic about Stage 3 after “a few really tough months” of lockdown.

“Out here, we have our mandatory mask bylaw. There’s good signage. Customers are being respectful and nobody wants to have to go back to what we went through with an economic shutdown,” Redden said in an interview.

“I believe that we’re doing this in a measured approach and our community’s going to support our businesses as we move forward.”

Goodlife Fitness will on Friday reopen 42 of its gyms, adding to 44 already opened in parts of Ontario that earlier moved to Stage 3.

The chain has a new set of anti-virus protocols to protect members and staff, company spokesperson Carlton Braithwaite told the Star.

A suggestion from Scarpitti that gym patrons bring their own sanitary wipes is not necessary at Goodlife, Braithwaite said.

“In the Markham area, health authorities mandate masks for people, except while they are exercising,” he said. “We supply a pretty copious amount of hand sanitizer stations and wipe-down stations.”