The Grey Bruce Health Unit is working on pursuing charges against some people who attended two large parties in the area recently.
The health unit said Tuesday that many of the teens and young adults who attended the parties that resulted in outbreaks were forthcoming with information, but some were not cooperative.
The outbreaks from the parties resulted in significant additional cases, infecting people who attended, as well as their family members and close contacts. Some of the attendees withheld information or provided incomplete information, the health unit said.
“This hindering of our investigators negatively affected our ability to reach high-risk individuals in a timely manner, potentially allowing for more spread of the virus,” the health unit said in a release.
Grey-Bruce Medical Officer of Health Dr. Ian Arra said Tuesday that the health unit takes the least intrusive approach to situations, with pursuing charges the final measure.
“If education is sufficient to do the work there is no need to go to a warning, there is no need to go to an order, and there is no need to lay charges,” Arra said. “Obviously when we get to the point where charges are warranted we have crossed all these points and hopefully it is going to be a deterrent to other people. The goal is to comply.”
Party hosts and attendees who fail to follow either the provincial regulations and the Section 22 MOH Class Order put in place by Arra on April 16 can be charged, the health unit has said.
“Charges will be brought against those individuals that willfully obstruct a case and contact investigation, such by providing information known to be false or withholding information,” it said in the release. “Working through the case investigation process, it becomes evident as to the identity of those that have been withholding or providing false information.”
Arra said one of the parties happened when the region was still in Step 2 of the province’s reopening plan, with the attendees numbering between 50 and 100. The second party was smaller, but there was transmission of the virus because people were not following public health measures.
He said the investigation is ongoing and charges are expected to be laid against “a number of people,” adding it will be more than two individuals.
The fine for not complying with the directives of the health unit’s case and contact management team or for obstructing the health unit’s investigators can be up to $5,000 a day upon conviction. The fine can be levied retroactive to the day the initial non-disclosure occurred, the release said.
Ontario entered Step 3 of its reopening plan on Friday, which allows outdoor social gatherings and organized public events of up to 100 people and indoor events of up to 25 people.
But in Grey-Bruce, the health unit introduced a modified Step 3, under which it is strongly recommended that everyone behave as if the region was still in Step 2. That means avoiding gatherings of more than 25 people outdoors and five indoors.
Arra said he still thinks the modified Step 3 is sufficient, as he trusts the response from the majority of the public over the past 16 months.
“We are at a point of the pandemic where there is real fatigue. To apply strict measures when people are compliant, it can backfire,” said Arra. “We lose the public who are doing the right things and we lose the businesses who have invested in safety.”
Arra said educating the teens and young adults who are attending parties is also important.
“When they are going to a party and they are sharing vapes and they are sharing drinks and they are very comfortable in the way they are behaving, they are doing that innocently and they are transmitting the disease innocently to people who may suffer,” said Arra. “I am confident that if they understand their behaviour goes beyond their own risk, I do believe they will alter their behaviour and they will stick with the recommendations for the near future and until we get over this hump.”
Other measures being strongly recommended under the modified Stage 3 are that people stick to patio dining whenever possible at restaurants and continuing to follow other health measures, like wearing masks, washing hands and physical distancing.
Arra has warned that the health unit will stop asking for voluntary compliance and start ordering it if the region starts seeing rapid virus transmission.
It isn’t the first time that parties have been identified as causing outbreaks in the region. In mid-April, a critical threshold was declared for Grey-Bruce after unorganized gatherings led to more than 70 COVID-19 cases in 36 hours and high-risk contacts in the 600s.
Residents were asked to stay home while the health unit increased contact and trace management capacity.
Arra said a “big chunk” of the new cases being reported of late are related to the parties.
“A few weeks ago we started with the transient community and it definitely has spilled out to people who might not be from that community,” Arra said. “(The parties) are definitely a driver of the numbers.”
Arra said the health unit has the situation under control and they are following up with all positive cases within 24 hours, well below the ministry requirement of 48 hours.
“We know that anytime there is an identified case we are on it,” Arra said. “Obviously the same rigour is being used as last year and last year and earlier this year it was sufficient to bring it down to close to zero.
“With the Delta variant, the virus is highly efficient in its transmission and that means the same rigour we used before has not been sufficient to bring it down.”
Arra said that each time they get one situation under control, there is another event that results in more cases.
He said getting as many people as possible vaccinated is the key to stop the variant from continuing to cause outbreaks.
In numbers released on Tuesday, the health unit said 285 of the 298 local cases reported between July 1 and 15 were among people who were not fully vaccinated.
There is also evidence that vaccines prevent the spread of the virus. Among the unvaccinated population, a single case will, on average, spread the delta variant to six to nine others. Should a vaccinated person acquire the infection, there is a low probability the virus will spread further, the health unit said.
“The absolute majority of cases are people who are not fully vaccinated,” said Arra. “The solution is easy – roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated.”