COVID-19: An information update from the College of Veterinarians of Ontario
Update: December 22, 2020
- Impact of Provincewide Shutdown on delivery of veterinary services
The College recognizes the recent announcement from the Province of Ontario of a provincewide shutdown comes as a challenge for the veterinary profession. Veterinarians have continued to demonstrate leadership throughout the pandemic and continue to show their commitment to animal health and serving the public.
The provincewide shutdown comes into effect December 26 at 12:01 a.m. At this time, the lockdown restrictions are in effect provincewide until January 9, 2021 for public health unit regions in Northern Ontario and until January 23, 2021 for public health unit regions in Southern Ontario. Southern Ontario is defined as public health unit regions south of the North Bay Parry Sound Public Health Unit.
The items relating to veterinary medicine are:
Businesses, organizations and services permitted to open under the Provincewide Shutdown include:
- For services that are necessary for the immediate health and welfare of the animal only, or provided through curb side pick-up and drop-off of the animal
Agriculture and food production
- Businesses that produce food and beverages, and agricultural products including plants, including by farming, harvesting, aquaculture, hunting and fishing
- Businesses that process, manufacture or distribute food, beverages, crops, agricultural products, animal products and by-products
- Businesses that support the food or agricultural products supply chains and the health and safety of food, animals and plants
- Other businesses that provide for the health and welfare of animals, including farms, boarding kennels, stables, animal shelters and research facilities
As you can see, these directives from the province are slightly modified from the essential workplaces list in March 2020. Please keep in mind that these rules are meant to limit person-to-person contact by restricting when people can be indoors and accompany their animals when veterinary services are being provided.
Veterinarians working with clients and animals in the food supply chain may continue to provide all services as they have been.
Mobile facilities providing services to companion animals and equine must restrict the services they provide indoors to those that are necessary for the immediate health and welfare of the animal.
Veterinary facilities that are hospitals or clinics are limited to providing services that are necessary for the immediate health and welfare of the animal or services that can be delivered without clients entering the veterinary facility with their animal. For example, companion animal veterinarians may deliver services making use of curbside drop-off and pick-up of animals.
At this time, veterinary facilities that provide grooming services are limited to providing grooming only when there is an immediate health or welfare need of the animal. Routine grooming appointments should be postponed.
In all circumstances, it is necessary to follow all public health recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes physical distancing, screening, personal protective equipment, face coverings, and safety plans.
The College’s advice to veterinarians remains consistent. Veterinarians are asked to use their professional judgment when considering which services are necessary for the immediate health and welfare of the animal.
Be Attentive to Public Health Measures: The College strongly recommends that veterinarians follow all public health recommendations. In delivering services, be attentive to public health directives and your infection control and biosecurity protocols to safeguard employees, clients and animals. Your local public health unit can assist you with further details.
Telemedicine: The College is maintaining its decision to not strictly enforce certain provisions of our regulation (section 33. (1) (b) of Regulation 1093) pertaining to prescribing via telemedicine. Until otherwise directed, veterinarians may prescribe a non-controlled drug using telemedicine alone within a veterinarian-client-patient relationship. This is an option in cases where a veterinarian has not conducted an in-person examination of the animal(s), and where they deem the medication is necessary and prudent in their professional judgment.
Practice Advisory Service: The College’s standards and expectations are available on the College website. The Practice Advisory team can assist you with any questions you may have. Please connect by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Support your health: These are stressful times and we encourage you to be attentive to your own health and well-being as we navigate these unprecedented challenges. The College has partnered with Homewood Health to provide a free, confidential service to support the health, well-being and resilience of veterinarians. Veterinarians who need support are encouraged to contact Homewood Health (1-866-750-3207) for assistance.
There is no doubt the global pandemic has been a tremendous burden and the veterinary profession has experienced that. It is important that veterinary practices are permitted to remain open so the public and their animals have access to safe, quality veterinary care. As veterinarians, you have continuously risen to the occasion to protect your health, and the health of your staff, clients and animals during the pandemic. That journey continues and the College appreciates your determination and hard work.
- OVMA’s Provincial shutdown FAQS https://www.ovma.org/assets/1/6/NewsHound Dec22 COVID Final.pdf
- COVID-19: provincewide shutdown: https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-provincewide-shutdown
- The provincial government has provided recommendations to businesses that provide veterinary services including measures to decrease the potential for exposure to COVID-19 to protect the safety of clients and staff. See: https://www.wsps.ca/WSPS/media/Site/Resources/Downloads/covid-19-veterinary-health-and-safety-guidance.pdf?ext=.pdf (includes information on workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities)
- The OVMA has also posted information. See: https://www.ovma.org/veterinarians/coronavirus-faq/
- All College updates for veterinarians can be found at: https://cvo.org/About-CVO/News/Coronavirus/COVID-19-Updates-for-Veterinarians-from-the-Colleg.aspx
Provincial shutdown FAQs
As reported in yesterday’s NewsHound, veterinary practices are considered essential workplaces and may remain open during the provincial shutdown, which begins Dec. 26. During the shutdown, veterinary practices
may only provide services that:
- are necessary for the immediate health and welfare of the animal, or
- are provided through curbside pick-up and drop-off of the animal.
OVMA has received a variety of inquiries from members regarding the shutdown. Here are answers to some
common questions we’ve received.
Q. I saw on the news that practices can only provide urgent care during the shutdown period. Is that true?
A. No. Veterinary practices will still be able to offer a range of medical services, including annual physical examinations, vaccinations, spays and neuters, etc. Services that do not address the immediate health and welfare of the animal can only be offered using curbside drop-off and pickup of the animal.
Q. Can clients come into the practice?
A. Yes, but only if a veterinarian, in their professional judgment, deems the visit to be necessary for the immediate health and welfare of the animal. Examples may include euthanasia or examining/treating a sick or injured animal. These are the situations when practices may consider allowing a client to enter the facility with the animal, however, the practice may also provide these services through curbside drop-off and pick-up of the animal. Practices are to limit the number of clients in the clinic and make sure to follow all public health
measures, including physical distancing, screening, personal protective equipment, face coverings and safety plans.
Remember that other types of appointments, such as general wellness examinations, can still take place. However, such appointments must be done using curbside pick-up and drop-off of the animal.
Q. Can clients enter the practice for euthanasias?
A. Yes. Practices are encouraged to keep the number of clients at a minimum, and make sure to follow all public health measures, including physical distancing, screening, personal protective equipment, face coverings, and
Q. Can the practice still do grooming?
A. No, unless grooming is deemed necessary for medical reasons (e.g. an animal needs to be shaved as a result of severe matting, ingrown toenails need to be trimmed, etc.). If grooming is required, it must be done by veterinary practice staff, not a groomer operating a separate business, even if the groomer operates out of the same building as the practice. (This is new information received by OVMA from the government this morning.)
Q. What about having clients coming into the practice to pay for services?
A. If possible, payment for services provided by curbside drop-off and pick-up should be taken without having the client enter the practice. This can be done via a wireless terminal, taking information over the phone, etc.
Q. What about house calls?
A. If the house call is necessary for the immediate health and welfare of the animal (e.g. you are assessing or treating a sick or injured animal or performing a euthanasia), you may enter the client’s home. Other types of appointments (e.g. annual physicals) should be done outside the home or postponed until after the shutdown.
A staff member may have been exposed to COVID-19 now what?
Scenario A – An employee falls ill.
If the employee becomes ill:
- The ill staff member should remain at home or immediately go home if the symptoms surface while at work. If the employee was at work, the clinic/office does not need to close, but the remaining staff should
sanitize all workspaces.
- The ill staff member is to contact telehealth Ontario or an Assessment Centre to determine if COVID-19 testing is required.
- If it’s determined that the individual does not need to be tested for COVID-19, they are to remain at home until they are well and symptom-free for at least 24 hours.
- If the individual tested for COVID-19 receives a positive result, Public Health will notify the employer and provide the next steps. A positive test does not automatically mean everyone in the clinic needs to self-isolate
or is at risk, it will depend on the health practices and social distancing being done at the clinic.
Public Health will evaluate and provide directives.
- Ensure a thorough cleaning of the ill employee’s work area and any other areas in the clinic where the staff member may have worked during their last shift.
Scenario B – An employee’s spouse/partner or family member who they live with falls ill.
- The staff member should remain at home.
- The staff member should seek direction from telehealth Ontario or an Assessment Centre.
- If COVID-19 testing is required, the staff member should self-isolate until results are received and further direction is provided by Public Health.
- If COVID-19 testing is not required and the employer wants the staff member to remain at home, they may ask the individual to do so, but the employer will be required to pay the individual’s salary.
Scenario C – An employee was somewhere (e.g. a grocery store) where a store employee was later tested positive for COVID-19.
- Having been in a facility where someone subsequently tests positive for COVID-19 does not automatically mean everyone who has been in close proximity to the ill person needs to self-isolate or is at risk.
- Individuals who have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 should contact their local Public Health Unit for more direction, as each situation will be unique and contact tracing may be required.
- Employers can ask exposed staff to remain at home, while being paid, and contact Public Health for further direction.
Scenario D – A client who recently visited the clinic tested positive for COVID-19.
- Having a client visit the clinic who later tests positive for COVID-19 does not automatically mean everyone who has been in close proximity to the ill person needs to self-isolate or is at risk.
- A contact tracer will be assigned to individuals who test positive for the virus and evaluate exposure risk to all individuals/businesses who may have been in contact with the case-positive individual. Public
Health will provide further direction based on the risk assessment with regards to quarantining and COVID-19 testing.
- If staff have been following proper protocols (e.g. wearing masks, sanitizing work stations, keeping six feet between them when possible, etc.), the risk of exposure would be low.
- Employers who are concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19 should contact their local Public Health Unit for more direction, as each situation will be unique and contact tracing may be required.
In all scenarios, employers can contact their local Public Health Unit for more direction, if required. Visit the government’s website to find your local Public Health Unit. Individuals can take the Ministry of Health’s online Self-Assessment.