OHS Canada Magazine

Companies beef up COVID-19 measures with masks, temperature checks

Longo’s shoppers now required to wear face masks


Temperature checks are being implemented at some Canadian organizations. (thanarak/Adobe Stock)

By Tara Deschamps

TORONTO — When travellers board Air Canada flights, they will have more than their tickets checked.

The Montreal-based airline will soon require all guests to have their temperature read, helping Air Canada detect potential travellers with COVID-19 symptoms.

Similar checks have been implemented on a voluntary basis for two weeks at T&T Supermarket locations and starting May 4, shoppers at Longo’s are required to wear face masks to enter stores.

“We have mandated that everyone is wearing a mask or face covering inside our facilities to protect each other,” Simon Kaplansky, Longo’s senior manager of health, safety and well-being told OHS Canada.  “As our marketing team has communicated: ‘My mask protects you; your mask protects me.’”

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The policies are part of a handful of increased protective measures companies are launching as provinces across Canada slowly start to reopen.

The measures are expected to change how we shop, work, travel and play.

“We have to get used to the fact that we will have to maintain physical distancing, but it’s not always going to be possible and so adding the mask gives a little extra layer of precaution,” said Vivek Goel, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“We need to restore public confidence so that when (people are) going out to the store or getting on an airplane, they’re going to be as safe as possible.”

Some businesses have moved toward taking temperatures because it reinforces and reminds people that if they have a temperature, a cough or a runny nose, they should stay home.

Checks not perfect

The checks aren’t failproof because some who contract the virus are asymptomatic at first or never develop any signs of COVID-19, said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer of health.

“The more you actually understand this virus, the more you begin to know that temperature-taking is not effective at all,” she said Monday.

Masks have similarly been a source of controversy for public health officials who deemed them unnecessary when the pandemic began.

Michael Bryant, the executive director and general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said some measures can be concerning because “you’re giving store employees and airline employees a new power that they are exerting over other people to either deny them entry or even just simply to take their temperature.”

Bylaw officers given similar powers have so far been “overzealous” in their reprimands, which could happen at businesses, he warned.

There are also lot of unknowns about what is being done with the data these companies collect and how it will be used in the future, Bryant said.

While people in urban centres can “vote with their feet,” by not visiting supermarkets or flying with airlines with specific measures in place, not everyone is so fortunate.

“In regions where there isn’t consumer choice, this is a very big decision … because it threatens people’s food security if they have no other place to go to get food,” he said.

New normal

Despite the concerns, Goel said mask requirements and temperature checks are bound to become common sightings as companies reopen.

Already grocery stores have gone a few steps further with Plexiglas shields for cashiers, special shopping hours for seniors and staggered lines keeping people at least about two metres apart.

They have also asked shoppers to stop bringing reusable bags to stores and have removed self-serve and sample foods.

The mask requirement is newer.

Gabriel Comanean, a Markham, Ont.-based renovations worker, first noticed grocery stores introducing the requirement for shoppers on a trip to Field Fresh Foods in Toronto with his wife at the end of March.

“We went there shopping and then they asked us to leave,” he said. “We didn’t have masks on.”

A worker at the grocery store later verified the policy in a call with The Canadian Press.

Comanean was initially taken aback by the request, but the couple later returned with masks and now wears them whenever they go shopping.

“It’s safer to have a mask on, not only for yourself, but for other people and protecting them,” Comanean said.

Travel precautions

For Air Canada, masks are just the start of precautions.

Canadians are being encouraged to stay home and avoid flying, but the airline has developed a plan for when restrictions are loosened, including infrared temperature checks, requiring face coverings, revising food policies to minimize crew and passenger contact and beginning eclectrostatic cabin spraying to disinfect planes.

“To promote physical distancing and provide more personal space onboard our aircraft, we will block the sale of adjacent seats in economy class … until at least June 30,” added senior executive Lucie Guillemette, on the company’s Monday earnings call.

As more businesses start to open, Goel expects them to be confronted by issues they have never encountered before, such as how many people to allow on an elevator at once or whether people should only be allowed to ride if they are wearing a mask.

In classrooms and at movie theatres, cleanings will need to be increased and some patrons may want to bring along their own wipes to give their seat an extra scrub.

Companies, he said, are going to have to warn customers and employees about changes in advance and make it simple to follow the guidelines.

“They’re going to have to make it as easy as possible,” he said. “There’s going to have to be a pretty significant change in public attitude.”

However, Goel said public needs to be reminded that while more measures can stop the spread of the disease, they won’t catch and prevent every COVID-19 case.

“We have to be prepared to accept that there will be some cases of COVID-19 as we start to reopen things,” he said.

“We’re going to have to weigh that against the benefits of staying locked up forever.”

With files from Christopher Reynolds in Montreal, Mia Rabson in Ottawa and Marcel Vander Wier of OHS Canada