Health officials will hold a pop-up COVID-19 testing centre Friday for the patrons of a popular restaurant in Carleton Place, Ont., that's been identified as one place where the coronavirus may have spread freely in late February.
But The Thirsty Moose Pub and Eatery isn't to blame for the origin of the outbreak, which has been connected to 20 cases as of Wednesday morning, those officials say.
According to the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, the source of the outbreak was a residential gathering last month where people didn't wear masks or take any precautions against spreading the illness.
"There's a false sense of reassurance," said Dr. Paula Stewart, the medical officer of health for the region, currently in the green zone with the least amount of provincial restrictions.
"It's so easy to assume because I know someone, 'Oh, they would never have COVID,'" she said. "But you don't know where they've been in the last 14 days."
People infected at that party have since spread the illness to not only The Thirsty Moose but also child-care services, recreational sports teams and other businesses.
Stewart said the health unit would rely on education, rather than fines, to correct the behaviour.
4 dates of concern
The health unit said customers of The Thirsty Moose may have been exposed between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Feb. 21, Feb. 23, Feb. 25 and Feb. 26.
Just three days before the first of those dates, the restaurant used its Facebook page to explain to customers that walk-ins were welcome but that only groups six and smaller could be accommodated.
The restaurant, which is now closed, declined an interview request Wednesday.
"My experience, whenever I go there, [is that] they've been following the protocol," said Thomas Sabela, who described himself as a regular customer of the Thirsty Moose.
"They seem to have been very conscientious about how they were dealing with the outbreak."
Sam Maalouf, who owns a pizza place next door, said it was "a shame" the pub was now closed.
"It could happen to anybody," Maalouf said.
'Our downtown is still safe'
Stewart suggested that the virus may have spread because people misinterpreted symptoms like headache, sore throat, congestion, fatigue and especially diarrhea.
The outbreak, however, was highly localized rather than widely spread through the region, Steward said. She said she hoped it wouldn't trigger the province to move the region from green pandemic restrictions to yellow.
The health unit also announced Wednesday that a resident had tested positive for a COVID-19 variant of concern, the first such case in the region.
Petra Graber, the owner of The Good Food Company, a bistro not far from The Thirsty Moose, told CBC she decided to remove her indoor seating for the winter season when she noticed people from different "bubbles" gathering.
"This isn't what should be happening," she said, referring to unmasked friends from different households sitting at small tables across from each other.
Kate Murray, the coordinator of the business improvement area for downtown Carleton Place, called the restaurant a "staple of the community," one that many locals had grown up with.
"Our downtown is still safe," Murray said. "And we hope that people will continue to come down."