Federal candidates must continue to mask while canvassing and expect limited access to long-term care and retirement homes, according to the head of one Ontario public health unit.
Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, chief medical officer of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, said this week he believes campaigning will closely resemble the last federal election in 2019. Ontario will likely exit Step 3 of its reopening plan during the campaign, which is expected to start later this month.
There will be key differences, though, which includes candidates and campaign volunteers wearing masks when arriving on residents’ doorsteps.
Roumeliotis also said people will need to avoid campaign rallies if they are sick, and he admitted the events present some uncertainty.
“I think the masking is what we will need to do because we won’t know the vaccination status of everybody,” said Roumeliotis.
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More restrictions inside LTC homes
Ontario’s Step 3 guidelines currently limit indoor gatherings to 25 people and outdoor gatherings are capped at 100. Those limits would disappear when the province exits this step.
Long-term care and retirement homes present the largest obstacle for campaigns eager for the votes of the older population. These institutions are at greatest risk for death or serious illness as threats of a fourth wave and the delta variant linger during the late summer and early fall.
“It’s not open season in long-term care. There are still some restrictions and they would have to adhere to those as well,” said Roumeliotis.
He expects a series of restrictions on the campaigns would complement the visitors’ policy already in place in long-term care homes.
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Voting day changes
New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Yukon have already held provincial and territorial elections during the pandemic, while Nova Scotia will head to the polls on Aug. 17.
Only Newfoundland and Labrador faced issues due a spike in cases of COVID-19, extending its voting period and then moving to mail-in ballots only.
The pandemic will affect election day and how the process works and the tallying of votes will take a few days due to mail-in ballots, according to Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault, as it did during last fall’s U.S. election.
How people cast their ballots will also change from 2019, but Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Wednesday ballot boxes could again be placed inside schools, where almost half were located in 2019.
The issue is election day always takes place on a Monday, unless it’s a statutory holiday, which will be when children are back in class. Lecce said the government is following the advice of public health experts while working with Elections Canada and Elections Ontario.
Elections Canada said Plexiglas barriers and trained staff will be in place at each voting location, along with contact tracing, while there will be a cap on the number of voters that can be inside at one time.
September is usually a warm month, but rain or snow could affect how many stand in line outside to vote.
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As of a meeting of the procedure and house affairs committee in June, Perreault told MPs that staff at voting stations do not need to be vaccinated. Staffing could also be an issue due to the high percentage of seniors who usually work on election day, and the potential for officers choosing to opt out in 2021.