Inconsistencies, double standards muddle Ontario's rules for reopening

From masks and social bubbles to gatherings and singing in public, a look at some of the inconsistencies and double standards inside the province's COVID-19 rules.

'There's many different interpretations to the rule,' says Ministry of Health

From masks and social bubbles to gatherings and singing in public, here's a look at some of the inconsistencies and double standards inside the province's COVID-19 rules. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A hefty slate of new rules have been hastily made to go with the province's reopening phases.

But some of these rules don't make much sense — directly clashing or contradicting other pandemic rules the province has come up with.

CBC News reached out to epidemiologists asking what they thought the biggest inconsistencies or double standards are in the province's response to COVID-19. Here are some of the most common answers.

Face mask use

Most officials are encouraging people to wear masks when out and unable to physically distance. But with no clear overall directive, it's created a wild patchwork of mask rules around the province. Masks are required in some stores and on some public transit systems but not in others.

The divide is perhaps clearest in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health unit, currently the province's lone health unit where masks are mandatory at most indoor businesses.

With no clear overall directive, there's now a patchwork of mask rules around the province, mandatory in some places but not others. (Paul Smith/CBC)

This means you're forced to wear a mask at a store in Guelph, Ont., but you can go to the same store 20 minutes away in Kitchener and shop without a mask (Windsor-Essex County Health Unit is working on a similar rule, ordering businesses to create their own no mask, no entry policy, to start Friday).

Dr. Nicola Mercer, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph's medical officer of health, was reluctant to criticize others, saying she put her order in place because she noticed locals weren't rigorously wearing masks or physically distancing. She likens it to other "societal norms" like no shirt, no shoes, no service.

"I didn't do so lightly … it was a difficult decision for me to make," she said. "What may make sense for me in our local geography may not actually make sense for [others]."

When asked Tuesday whether masks should be made mandatory, Ontario's chief medical officer David Williams said it is "much better" if the public does it voluntarily.


Patios are back open in almost all parts of the province but singing on them is banned. Research has shown COVID-19 can easily spread from singers, particularly those who do it loudly.

However, singing is not banned in places of worship — the Ministry of Health is just strongly recommending congregations don't do it, leaving it to a physically distanced soloist or cantor. Ministry spokesperson Hayley Chazan couldn't clarify why that's the case.

Some congregations are still singing though, now that in-person services have resumed at a limited capacity.

Though singing is known to spread COVID-19, it isn't banned in Ontario's places of worship. The Ministry of Health is just strongly recommending congregations don't do it. (Ethan Williams/CBC)

Pastor John Twinem received guidance on physical distancing, disinfection and sanitizing to reopen his baptist church in Springfield, Ont., 40 kilometres southeast of London, but no specific instructions on singing. So the congregation sang loud the first week back. 

"It has a bit of a reputation for being a singing church," he said.

After hearing about the risks, he has now told his congregation to keep quiet during songs or to simply hum along.

"It is going to be challenging and we're going to miss it," he said. "We want to make sure that we're not doing anything that in any sense is considered reckless."

Has the province backtracked on rules?

  • At first, the province said only 10 people could attend weddings and funerals.
  • But as many pointed out, places of worship were allowed up to 30 per cent of their capacity.
  • Shortly after, the rule was changed. Indoor weddings and funerals are now allowed to have 30 per cent of their venue's capacity.
  • Receptions are still capped at 10 people.

Home helpers

The province has permitted people to create a bubble with a group of 10 — it calls them social circles.

But these circles get undermined when you add in domestic helpers like at-home chefs, butlers or nannies. These services were allowed to restart back in stage one of the reopening.

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist, likens these workers to those at long-term care homes, who were initially allowed to move between facilities. That was considered to have contributed to those outbreaks, before workers were restricted to one facility.

If a family chooses to include a grandmother or grandfather in its social bubble, that grandparent is then good to babysit the children, according to the province's rules. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"We've decided that it's OK to reproduce that with private homes and that's a terrible idea," he said. "It's the worst thing that you could want to possibly have out there and they move from house to house to house to house."

Furness suggests bubbling with these employees if you have any of them coming to your house — and perhaps sharing them with another house.

It's the same for babysitters, who he said should be bubbling too and not seeing people outside of their bubble, something the Ministry of Health reiterated as well.


Not to be confused with bubbling, the province is now letting groups of up to 10 people gather — and must maintain physical distance.

But as Furness points out, there are many situations where the rule doesn't make sense and gatherings of more than 10 are inevitable — like in a busy park.

All these rules are being made for the first time — in real time. For Furness, that means mistakes will be made. 'These things are completely arbitrary. They are absolutely arbitrary.' (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"As long as I don't know their names, it's OK. But if I know their names, then it's a gathering and this is not OK," he said of the park example. "It's a little bit non-sensical."

Chazan, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Health, admits she doesn't know how or if this would always be enforced. 

"There's many different interpretations to the rule."

What else would you add to the list? Is one thing open but not something else comparable and it's upsetting you? Add your inconsistencies here.


Haydn Watters is a roving reporter for Ontario, primarily serving the province's local radio shows. He has worked for CBC News and CBC Radio in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and the entertainment unit. He also ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont.


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