Emergency room doctors are cautioning residents to not let their guard down after a video appearing to show a lack of social distancing by the checkout of a Winners/HomeSense in Vaughan went viral.
“Really choose wisely when you make the decision to leave your house,” said ER physician Dr. David Carr, warning that the current public health measures might not work against the new, highly transmissible variants of concern.
“The spread seems to be a lot more chaotic and unpredictable,” he explained. “So whereas six feet or two metres might have been safe before, it may not be safe now.”
The video, first obtained by Global News, created a stir on social media and caught the attention of numerous emergency room doctors.
“It’s a bit gut-wrenching,” said Carr.
“It’s just ridiculous, but not surprising,” added Dr. Steve Flindall who works in York Region.
“People who are doing this clearly know what they’re supposed to do. If they’re not doing it, they’re simply choosing not to. I don’t think ignorance of what’s happening is any longer a viable excuse.”
The short video clip was recorded Monday, the first day York Region moved into the red zone of the provincial framework under which retail stores can open at fifty per cent capacity.
“The issue is — what are our priorities?” said Carr, who has patients in York Region.
“From the get-go, my priorities have always been hospital capacity, kids going back to school, then businesses re-opening,” he said suggesting better order and structure would help with a safer transition.
Flindall agrees, advocating for a more coordinated effort between Toronto, Peel Region, and York Region.
They point to the current regional relaxing of restrictions as problematic. With Toronto and Peel still under a stay-at-home order, there are worries about people crossing over into zones where they don’t live.
Psychiatrist Dr. Ariel Dalfen talked about the psychology behind why the regional approach can be confusing to some.
In the video, customers appear to be standing close together in line with some walking against the clearly printed arrows on the floor. There was also a long line-up outside the home décor store for most of Monday and Tuesday as customers waited two metres apart to get in.
Flindall and Carr warned that people should only go out for essential trips because the region can’t afford to add any more pressure the health-care system.
“Our intensive care units are still completely full in York Region,” said Flindall.
“To ask the health system to absorb more illness from completely avoidable methods of transmission… it’s completely selfish behaviour.”
For its part, TJX Canada – the parent company of Winners/HomeSense reacted to the video with a statement that reads in part: “In all of our stores in Canada, we ask our associates and customers to maintain social distance throughout our stores via signage, decals, and overhead public address announcements…
“These are in addition to our numerous other health protocols, which include occupancy limits, enhanced cleaning regimens, and protective shields at our cash registers.”
After Global News showed the video to York Region health officials on Monday, a public health inspector was sent to investigate Tuesday and “observed some lack of physical distancing by patrons in the checkout area, but this was quickly remedied during the inspection,” said Patrick Casey, director of corporate communications for York Region.
“The store agreed to set and post their capacity limit to 150 patrons or 25 per cent below the provincial requirements under the red-control zone.”
Meanwhile, the emergency room doctors expressing their frustration with the scene at HomeSense are pleading with people to only leave home for essential reasons.
“It’s so easy to undo months and months of hard effort in just a short amount of time,” said Flindall.
“Please just stay at home and listen to what public health officials are telling you,” he said, adding that a couple more weeks of dedication could result in a much better grasp on stopping the spread of COVID-19.