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Coronavirus: Increased gatherings lead to abrupt crackdown for Hastings Prince Edward

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WATCH: Hastings Prince Edward's top doctor cites an increase in gatherings as the driving factor for harsher public health orders in the region – Mar 30, 2021

Editor’s note: Dr. Kieran Moore has since indicated he was mistaken when talking about a superspreader event at an Airbnb in Hastings and Prince Edward. He has since said this social event was not held at an Airbnb. The story has been changed to reflect that. 

After an increase in cases, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health has implemented a swift class order pursuant to Section 22 of the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act.

The order came into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday morning, a mere six hours after the order was announced. According to Dr. Kieran Moore, KFL&A’s medical officer of health, there was a ‘superspreader’ event somewhere in the Prince Edward county area that was a contributing factor in this abrupt class order amendment.

“Hastings put this in because of an unmonitored social event where people came from afar,” says Dr. Moore.

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Read more: Coronavirus: New class order coming into effect at midnight in Hastings, Prince Edward counties

Hastings Prince Edward’s top doctor avoided talking about any specific events, but rather about the overall increase in social gatherings in the area.

“That is not something we usually share, that kind of detailed information,” says Dr. Piotr Oglaza, HPEPH’s medical officer of health.

“We’ve seen that transmission was taking place unintentionally at private social gatherings, where there was little to no public health measures in place.”

There are a number of changes under this new amendment, which include:

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  • Bookings/reservations for hotel/motel accommodation, personal service settings, and dine-in food services can only be accepted for individuals residing in HPEC (exceptions will include booking accommodation for individuals who are travelling to our region for essential reasons, ie. health care staff, medical appointments, and emergencies and are in need of housing)
  • All short-term accommodations (e.g. Airbnb’s, B&B’s, cottages) are immediately closed, including all bookings made prior to March 30, 2021 (Exception: booking of accommodation is permitted for individuals who are travelling to or within our region for essential reasons, i.e. health care staff, medical appointments, and emergencies, and are in need of housing)
  • No person shall host or attend any indoor or outdoor social gatherings with more than five persons that is held at a private dwelling, condominium, apartment building and or student residence. (exception: does not impact occupancy limits for places of business and does not include a gathering held at a place of business or an organization held for reasons related to the operations of the business or an organization)
  • All food and drink establishments must close to the public between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m., with limited exceptions (e.g. to pick up or pay for a takeout order)
  • All food and drink establishments must seat no more than 5 people together at a table
  • All food services and personal service settings must record contact information for all patrons (exception: need not collect contact information for pick-up/carry-out orders)
  • All retail businesses must have a safety plan that is in writing, available on request, and posted in a conspicuous place
  • All retail businesses and food and drink establishments must ensure music played is no louder than the volume of a normal conversation
  • The person responsible for a business or place that is open must not permit patrons to line up inside, or to line up or congregate outside unless maintaining a physical distance of at least two metres from other groups of persons and wearing an appropriate mask/face covering

Failure to comply with this class order can result in fines of up to $5,000 for individuals, and $25,000 for corporations for every day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues.

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These new orders meant a busy day for business owners, who had to contact their customers about these changes.

“Of course, it came as a bit of a shock,” says Suzette McIlmoyle, co-owner of the Montrose Inn.

“Once we were notified, I had to make a bunch of calls to cancel these reservations.”

Read more: AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not recommended for those under 55, NACI says

While the new orders came on short notice, McIlmoyle is taking them in stride.

“It doesn’t really matter how much time they give you, it’s always going to be not enough or too much notice,” she says.

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“So the fact that the Section 22 order has been in effect since the beginning of February, it’s not unusual or unexpected that they’ve amended it to be more restrictive.”

The orders came just in time for Easter weekend, which municipal officials hope will help deter residents from travelling and gathering this holiday weekend.

“The key thing for everybody, is to stay home at Easter,” says Belleville mayor Mitch Panciuk.

“We saw at Christmas, people didn’t follow our advice. We saw too many people gather on St. Patrick’s Day, and we’re really concerned about this weekend.”

There is no set end date for these new amendments, but Dr. Oglaza says it’s quite possible they could remain in place until after spring break.

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