Thanksgiving, large gatherings to blame for surge in COVID-19 cases in Ontario, officials say

·3 min read

As Ontario saw record numbers of daily COVID-19 cases over the weekend, health officials on Monday are putting some of the blame on large gatherings that may have taken place over Thanksgiving two weeks ago.

In York Region, 16 people, including three infants, are believed to have contracted the novel coronavirus following a Thanksgiving gathering.

Three families gathered at a home in Vaughan over a span of two weeks around the Thanksgiving weekend.

At least one person attended despite having mild symptoms.

One family member then went to work while symptomatic and infected two additional individuals.

"Every time we socialize with anyone beyond our immediate household, there's a risk that we enter into," said Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region's medical officer of health.

"This particular cluster illustrates that sort of a risk."

In the province's daily COVID-19 briefing, Health Minister Christine Elliott pointed at Thanksgiving gatherings as one of the factors for the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

"We are also starting to see some of the numbers go down in some of the modified areas but because of the impacts of Thanksgiving, we're not seeing that happening quite as quickly as we'd like to," Elliott said.

Weddings, religious service exempt from provincial gathering limits

This past weekend, nearly 100 people, many without masks, congregated outside a Toronto church for a wedding on Saturday.

A woman, whose identity CBC News agreed to protect because she fears repercussions from the community, was passing by when she saw the gathering and spoke out.

"It was wrong," said the woman.

"It was going against everything we're being asked to do right now and it gives the impression that what they're doing matters more than keeping the rest of the people safe," she said.

Ontario has restricted gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors in areas that are in Stage 2 — Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa.

But religious services, like weddings — even in hotspots like Toronto — are exempt, as long as the venue is at less than 30 per cent capacity.

In a briefing Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the rules may need to be changed.

"I think we have to take another look at those regulations," he said.

"Any large gathering, no matter how careful you are, has a certain risk associated with it."

PC MPP under fire for maskless photo at indoor gathering

Meanwhile, a Progressive Conservative MPP is under fire for not wearing a mask while posing for a group photo.

Sam Oosterhoff posted the picture on social media over the weekend but later deleted it.

"I think it was shocking," said Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca on Monday.

"I think it was inappropriate and I think there definitely needs to be consequences for Mr. Oosterhoff."

Oosterhoff, who is also the parliamentary assistant to the education minister, apologized for the picture, saying he should have worn a mask when taking the photo, given the proximity of the people around him.

Critics have called for his resignation, saying he was not following his government's pandemic guidance.

In the province's daily COVID-19 briefing, Premier Doug Ford said that's not going to happen.

"Hey guys, everyone makes mistakes," said Ford.

"I have 100 per cent confidence in Sam. He does a great job representing his area. People love him out there and he came out and apologized."