Reducing COVID-19 risk in community settings: A tool for operators

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About this tool

This tool is a resource for operators of non-health care community settings the public can access. This tool is based on available guidance about individual and community-based measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Canada, which considers the Canadian context, is based on the best available scientific evidence and expert opinion, and takes into account the specific needs of diverse groups.

As more of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19, and new and active cases drop and stay low, public health authorities may begin to lift public health measures gradually. Follow directions from your provincial/territorial health authorities, and local public health, about:

  • re-opening
  • allowing more people into the setting
  • returning to usual activities that allow more people to participate as gathering size restrictions are lifted

Be prepared to re-instate measures in a layered approach (using multiple measures at once) if circumstances change. This includes the ones your local public health authority requires. Changes could include:

  • an increased number of new or active cases
  • an outbreak of COVID-19 in the setting or community
  • a new variant of concern that isn't responsive to existing vaccines

If you are an operator and public health measures are required in your setting, as per your local public health authority, this tool will help you assess and identify strategies to help reduce the risk for COVID-19 transmission, including variants of concern.

Settings this tool applies to may include, but are not limited to:

  • schools (kindergarten to grade 12, post-secondary)
  • day cares and summer camps
  • business and retail settings
  • workplaces (including essential retailers)
  • places of worship
  • recreational facilities (for example, sports facilities, parks, and gyms)
  • event venues

Use this tool alongside and in support of:

COVID-19 plans should be comprehensive, tailored to your unique circumstances and consider the diverse needs of the people accessing your setting. When drafting plans, for additional information on public health measures, consult with local public health authority resources and/or environmental public health officers (for example, in Indigenous communities).

Make sure you're familiar with:

Information in this tool may change as we learn more about vaccine effectiveness and coverage, transmission of variants of concern and the effectiveness of public health measures.

How to use this tool

If public health measures are required in your setting, use this tool to identify different strategies that may help to lower the risk of COVID-19 spread. As you work through each section, place a checkmark beside the measures that make sense in your setting. At the end of the tool, you'll be able to print a list of these items for reference.

This tool has 4 sections:

  1. COVID-19 activity in your area
  2. Physical features of your setting
  3. People who access your setting
  4. Activities and interactions in your setting

Each section in this tool will:

  • explain the purpose of the section related to how COVID-19 may spread
  • provide questions about COVID-19 risk for you to consider
  • list some public health measures that may be useful

This tool doesn't list every possible public health measure that might be useful in a specific setting. We encourage you to find ways to lower the risk of COVID-19 spreading in your setting that align with local public health advice.

Consider how measures may impact emergency preparedness plans like building evacuation and medical emergencies unrelated to COVID-19. Make sure the measures don't introduce new hazards into the setting either (for example, don't prop open fire doors).

Some measures may only make sense in indoor spaces or supervised outdoor spaces. Others may not be possible in unstructured or unsupervised settings.

Using several different public health measures in a layered approach is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. If you have concerns about being able to put in place certain measures, talk to your local public health authority, environmental health officer, or consult occupational health and safety resources. They can help you make a decision about whether or not your setting should be open (if applicable).

COVID-19 activity in your area

Consider the number of new and active COVID-19 cases in your community or surrounding communities. If the case count is high or going up, this can increase the likelihood that someone with COVID-19 will be present in your setting. This information is available through COVIDTrends and your local public health authority.

What is the risk that someone with COVID-19 will visit your setting?

One way to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in your setting is to take steps to make sure that a person who may have COVID-19 doesn't enter your setting.

Questions to consider

  • Is the number of new or active COVID-19 cases in your community high or increasing?
  • Are variants of concern circulating in your area?  
  • What percentage of people are vaccinated?
  • Will people travel to your setting from areas where the number of new or active cases are high or increasing?

Actions to consider

What will you do if COVID-19 symptoms occur in someone in your setting?

If someone who visits your setting develops symptoms that may be due to COVID-19, the virus may spread to other people in your setting. Some actions below may not be relevant in settings where activities take place outdoors or people are only present for a very short period of time.

Questions to consider

  • Is your setting prepared to manage the situation if someone develops symptoms of COVID-19? Are plans and protocols in place?
  • Does your setting have the physical capacity and resources to manage the situation if someone develops symptoms, such as staff to assist and a designated isolation space?

Actions to consider

What will you do if you find out someone with COVID-19 was present in your setting?

You may find out that someone in your setting has been diagnosed with COVID-19 from your local public health authority or directly from the person who was diagnosed. Whether or not the person had symptoms, the virus may have spread to others in your setting.

Questions to consider

  • Who told you that someone with COVID-19 was present in your setting? Your local public health authority or the person themselves?
  • When was the person with COVID-19 present in your setting?
  • What was the person doing in the setting that may have put other people at risk (refer to the activities section)?

Actions to consider

Physical features of your setting

The physical features of your setting may increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission, including its size, layout, ventilation, and high-touch surfaces and objects. These factors are also related to the interactions and activities that occur in your setting.

How big is your setting?

Respiratory aerosols can build up in the air faster in a small indoor space. This can increase the risk of transmission if someone with COVID-19 is in the setting. A small space may also be more likely to lead to crowding and close interactions, which increases risk.

Questions to consider

  • Does your local public health authority restrict the number of people that can gather in public settings (both indoor and outdoor)?
  • How many people do you expect will use the setting at one time?
  • How does the expected number of people using the setting relate to the size of the setting? Will they be crowded in the space?  
  • Are there physical characteristics within the setting that will cause people to be close to one another? For example:
    • tight or narrow spaces
    • common aisles or pathways
    • sinks, stalls or urinals
    • narrow trails
  • Are there areas where people may gather together? For example:
    • entrance lobbies
    • cash register lineups
    • popular lookout points

Actions to consider

How well ventilated is your setting?

Transmission is more likely if someone with COVID-19 is in a closed indoor space with poor ventilation. This is because without proper ventilation, respiratory aerosols with virus in them can build up in the air to levels that may infect others.

Questions to consider

  • Can indoor activities or operations be moved outdoors?
  • Does your setting have exterior windows or doors that you can open?
  • Is your setting crowded, stuffy, or smelly?
  • Does the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in your setting work properly? Who is responsible for its operation?
  • Does the HVAC system have a filter in place? Is the best filter being used? Is it clean, installed properly and the right fit?

Actions to consider

Are there surfaces or objects that will be touched frequently?

COVID-19 may spread when people in your setting frequently share or touch common surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with the virus, then touch their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

Questions to consider

  • Will people in your setting be sharing objects? For example, will customers be touching products, or are people sharing equipment?
  • Will people in these settings be touching common surfaces frequently? For example, Braille signs, door handles, elevator buttons, or debit and credit machines.

Actions to consider

People who access your setting

People who access your setting or venue may be at risk of more severe disease or outcomes if they get COVID-19 and/or be limited in their ability to follow public health measures based on their diverse needs.

Will people at risk of more severe disease be in your setting?

Some people are at risk of more severe disease for example, those who are older (60 years or more) or have other health conditions.

Questions to consider

  • What do you know about the people who visit your setting?
  • Does your setting serve an older population, or will older people be present?
  • Does your setting serve people who may have medical conditions? For example, a community health clinic or pharmacy.

Actions to consider

Will people visiting your setting be able to follow measures?

Some people may not be able to follow measures that you put in place for reasons that are out of their control. Some of these reasons include:

  • age
  • vulnerability
  • disability status
  • pre-existing health conditions
  • a first language other than English or French
  • low or limited language or cognitive abilities
  • other socio-economic and demographic factors

Questions to consider

  • What do you know about the people who visit your setting?
  • Does your setting serve people who may experience challenges in understanding or following directions and recommended measures? This could include young children and people with:
    • disabilities
    • limited language skills
    • health conditions, like dementia
  • What ethnic and cultural groups frequently visit the setting? Can you adapt measures to meet their diverse needs?
  • What can you do to meet the needs of diverse groups in your setting when putting measures in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19?
  • What can you do to make sure people who access your setting can understand the information you provide? This includes information in signs, email, web pages, text messages, and social media posts.

Actions to consider

Activities and interactions in the setting

The activities that people take part in at your setting can increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. So can their interactions during these activities.

What kinds of activities are happening?

The activities that people are involved in can make it easier for COVID-19 to spread. Activities that involve singing, shouting, close-range conversations, or heavy breathing, like during exercise, are higher risk, especially when they happen around other people in closed spaces or crowded places.

Questions to consider

  • Has your local public health authority restricted the types of activities that may occur in your setting?
  • Do the activities that take place in your setting involve people interacting closely with one another? For example:
    • team sports
    • children playing together
    • staff working side-by-side
  • Will people in your setting participate in activities that create more respiratory droplets and aerosols, like singing, shouting, or heavy breathing?
  • Does your setting provide services to multiple groups of people?
  • Do people tend to stay for a period of time in the setting, such as:
    • children in a classroom
    • participants in a sports facility
    • patrons in a restaurant
  • Will your setting provide food and drink services to people in the setting?
  • Will your setting provide alcohol or substances that may make it difficult for people to follow public health measures?

Actions to consider

How do people interact in your setting?

Frequent, close and prolonged interactions between people from different households can increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Questions to consider

  • How do people interact with one another in the setting?
  • Will people interact with many others within the setting? For example:
    • Will staff need to interact with a large number of patrons or customers? Or teachers with students?
    • Will participants or clients need to interact with one another, such as during team sports or classes?
  • Will people have close interactions with one another in the setting, such as direct physical contact or close-range conversations?
  • Will people have lengthy interactions with one another in the setting?

Actions to consider

Related links

For children, youth and students

For workplaces and businesses

For gatherings and events

For recreation

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