Charges pending after large parties in Grey Bruce broke COVID-19 rules

Health officials in Grey Bruce say they're planning to charge hosts and attendees of large gatherings that have caused COVID-19 to spread in the area.

The parties were in violation of the Section 22 order that was enacted on April 16, as well as provincial guidelines. At least one gathering had more than 25 people in attendance, and residents gave false information to health officials, a news release said.

“We need to be all of us doing our part, and providing information to public health investigator is essential in protecting people beyond the investigation itself,” said Dr. Ian Arra, Medical Officer of Health for the Grey Bruce Health Unit.

Public health officials are also targeting those who obstructed investigations by giving incomplete or false information, allowing for the virus to spread faster.

If convicted, fines can be up to $5,000 per day retroactive to the day the initial non-disclosure occurred.

“There are some people who simply refuse to cooperate. For those people we need a different strategy,” said Selwyn Hicks, Warden for Grey County. “The time has come now for us to look and saying, ‘OK folks, you just don't get it,’ and if we need to have you go and explain to a judge why you shouldn't have a fine imposed on you, then so be it.”

Dr. Arra said public health only sends out news releases about outbreaks at gatherings when it can’t get in touch with all of the high risk contacts from the event, adding the the attendees were mostly younger people who didn't know who was at the event. He said the majority of attendees are often quick to comply with investigators.

“I’m confident if they have awareness and knowledge that their behaviour can increase the risk for other people beyond themselves, that they will definitely change that,” said Dr. Arra.

According to Dr. Arra, public health hasn’t made stricter orders because most area residents follow the recommendations. But, some need to be reminded that rules are still in place.

The continued transmission in the area is causing concern for Owen Sound Fitness and Training owner Josh Burnett. His gym has only been open for six weeks this year, and he has been forced to lay off some key employees during that time.

“I don't want to have to close again,” said Burnett. “It's just kind of giving a little reminder like ‘hey guys we're not quite out of it yet,’ if we want to be able to live pretty normal lives, we need to make some of these little sacrifices still and just not go too overboard too quickly.”

Owen Sound police have seen an increase in calls from residents worried their neighbours aren’t complying with the restrictions, but beyond that it’s been quiet.

“Overall the compliance has been pretty good. We've had a number of calls that we've followed up on. But generally, the compliance has been very good,” said Chief Craig Ambrose with the Owen Sound Police Service.

Dr. Arra said the majority of COVID-19 cases in the area are residents who have not received a vaccine and he encourages everyone to get both doses as soon as possible.

With files from CTV London