COVID-19 case traced back to bingo hall that hosted hundreds of people

A case of COVID-19 has been traced back to the bingo hall that drew a whirlwind of attention lately for hosting hundreds of people on two separate occasions over the past week. 

Bingo has also been banned in the province as a result, said Health Minister Christian Dube on Thursday.

Regional public health authorities are asking anyone who visited the hall -- located at 186 St-Joseph St. in St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu -- on Oct. 4, to get tested for the disease as a precautionary measure, especially given the "significant number of people present and the fact that vulnerable people have frequented the area," the Monteregie-Centre CISSS said in a news release. 

The hall in question hosted hundreds of people on Friday and was visited by police on Wednesday, when it hosted another event. 

Around 170 people had gathered when police arrived. 

Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu police department Sgt. Jeremy Levesque told The Canadian Press that he and colleagues visited the scene in an attempt to interrupt the evening, and the organizers decided to end it after being "invited to do so."

"They wished to have perhaps better press and public opinion," said Levesque.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS) clarified on Wednesday that only 25 people are allowed to gather at a bingo hall, after 250 people, mainly elderly in their 60s, gathered Friday for a chance to win a jackpot worth over $100,000.

The MSSS added that participants should monitor their symptoms of COVID-19 over the next few days.

Dube made it clear in the daily news conference that bingo games are not permitted.

"We don't want bingo to become the karaoke of recent weeks," he said. 

He said he was annoyed at the matter because people should be focusing on asking themselves if they can do things, not if they should. He says people always try to find the loopholes in the law but states clearly bingo is not allowed.

"I think if there is something that I'm asking organizers... Please, use your judgment and make sure that we protect our people, especially those that would be more affected..." Dube said 

The organization that represents bingo halls in Quebec (the Secretariat du bingo) had recommended that the capacity be limited to 250 people until the announcement was made.

It also claimed that the rooms could actually accommodate as many people as they wanted as long as there was a maximum of 10 people per table and a distance of two meters between each one.

HR Community Bingo may be starting to get used to the police visit since they have made five "courtesy visits" there since July, including at least one when the area was in the orange zone, according to Levesque.

"Sometimes more than 25 people were there," said Levesque, who explained that the police made sure to enforce "the most permissive law."'

In other words, they verified that people who do not reside at the same address are more than two metres away and that the gathering does not have more than 250 people. 

-- with reporting from The Canadian Press.

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