Mask mandates are being lifted for public servants while government departments and agencies will return to the workplace at full capacity, Health Canada said in an update of its occupational health guidance on May 16.
“Masks can be removed when physical distancing can be maintained at a workstation or in a meeting,” the federal health agency said in a news release, adding that people should continue to wear medical masks or respirators in indoor spaces where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing such as elevators, entrances, hallways, and stairwells.
Health Canada said government departments and agencies can return to full building occupancy with “appropriate use of workplace preventive practices” in a “layered approach” to control the spread of COVID-19 in occupational environments.
Active screening of employees and visitors is no longer required in most workplaces but signs will remain in place to prevent symptomatic individuals from entering commercial or administrative buildings. Other preventive practices such as ventilation, sanitation, and hand hygiene are still recommended in federal workplaces.
While employees who have been in close contact with a confirmed or presumed case of COVID-19 can enter worksites if they are symptom-free, employees who test positive or have symptoms are asked to stay away for at least seven days until they are asymptomatic.
The updated guidance, developed by the health agency’s Public Service Occupational Health Program (PSOHP), says the advice is “not prescriptive.” Instead, Health Canada said federal departments and agencies will implement their own preventive approaches to curb the spread of COVID-19 and their deputy heads are ultimately responsible for the health and safety of employees.
Under PSOHP, Health Canada is in charge of providing occupational health medical advice and guidance to over 125 departments and agencies representing over 250,000 Canadian public servants.
PSOHP has required public servants to wear masks indoors since the onset of the Omicron wave in December 2021, and asked departments and agencies to review building occupancy levels and increase working remotely.
The lifting of mask mandates for public servants comes months after some provinces began to loosen face-covering restrictions. Despite phasing out some restrictions in March, government employees were still required to wear masks indoors and in crowded settings outdoors.
On March 1, Alberta and Saskatchewan were the first provinces to remove mask mandates with most other provinces dropping the public health measure the same month. On May 14, Quebec became the last province to lift masking mandates in public spaces.