I couldn’t help but think a couple of events a couple of weeks back aptly showed how the United States and Canada differ in their approach to fighting the coronavirus Covid-19.
In the U.S. thousands of people, most not wearing masks and not coming even close to social distancing, flocked to election rallies held by President Donald Trump.
In Sault Ste. Marie the public objected, and I believe rightly so, to a religious group, although unnamed in news reports believed to be the Philadelphia Church of Christ, holding a conference of 270 participants from across Canada at the Quattro Hotel and Convention Centre.
Watching what is happening at the Trump rallies, it is no wonder the U.S. is leading the world in number of Covid-19 cases and also number of deaths.
Watching what happened in the Sault I believe shows why we are doing so well against Covid, only 40 cases being found here and 36 of them resolved as of this writing. The community is doing its best to fight the virus; it wants businesses like Quattro to do the same.
Quattro apologized for being host to the event.
“We hear you and we apologize,” a statement from Quattro marketing and communications manager Tricia Lesnick said.
“Your concerns are valid. In fact, we echo much of your sentiments. Our decision to host a recent event resulted in dissatisfaction from our community. We are doing our best to navigate these unusual times. While the event organizers and Quattro worked in tandem with Algoma Public Health every step of the way, following their guidance and adhering to stringent public health protocols, we regret the alarm it raised. Again, let us say we are sorry.”
General manager Mike Braykovich earlier had said the conference centre was not hosting a conference, but instead was being host to a church service event, a claim that was hard to buy considering the circumstances.
“This church group has been very proactive and very diligent in ensuring that they follow not just guidelines established by the Ontario Government and Algoma Public Health, but they have done over and above what is required,” he was quoted as saying.
He also said the hotel and conference centre had received a “social media lynching” after a story in The Sault Star about the conference.
I don’t think many people really care that Quattro, with many meeting rooms in its 12,000 square feet of available space, followed the rules set down by the government in regard to maximum gatherings in a room.
They see beyond that, to the businesses whose doors remain shuttered, funeral services curtailed, weddings, sports leagues, curling events involving our champion Brad Jacobs rink cancelled.
With so many local people and organizations affected, it was only natural they would react to a group bringing people in such numbers from across the country to our city.
Attendees do not spend all their time in the hotel; they spread out in the city to eat and shop.
Ontario has no restrictions on travellers coming here from anywhere in Canada, as is the case with most provinces other than those in the Maritimes and Manitoba, but that shouldn’t mean people should be coming here in bulk, as was the case here.
This group said people in “high risk” areas of the country were asked to stay home, but we have no idea how this was policed, if indeed it was.
In regard to the conference, Mayor Christian Provenzano was quoted on SooToday as saying the gap between public health advice and what’s permitted by the provincial government is frustrating.
“What I have done, and will continue to do, is share and support the public health advice that we’re getting, and I recognize and acknowledge that there is a significant gap between the public health advice and activities that are permitted by the province,” said Provenzano. “As someone who is supporting public health and advocating for public health advice, I obviously find that frustrating.”
“It’s difficult to ask people to follow public health advice to keep each other safe when they see activities — permitted activities — that are obviously contrary or inconsistent with that advice.”
Provenzano said that the province has to ensure that its rules and regulations are consistent with the public health advice that is being offered through the respective regional public health authorities.
I’m not so sure that the public health advice was much in play in the case at hand.
From all that I have read, Algoma Public Health appears to be complicit in facilitating the religious group’s appearance in the Sault.
APH manager Jonathan Bouma was quoted as saying the hotel was in contact with APH prior to the event and the health agency outlined what the provincial regulations are and what it needed to follow.
And in a Facebook post, APH said it cannot prevent a premises or event from operating if they are in compliance with regulations set by the province.
“It does not mean we support or endorse specific gatherings or events. It does not mean the gatherings are without risk,” the post read. “As stated very clearly on APH’s website, we continue to recommend against non-essential travel. We strongly advise everyone to avoid close contact with people outside one’s household. We urge everyone to make responsible choices in their behaviours and activities, to keep our communities safe.”
The health agency might not have the authority to deny such an event taking place, but it can surely recommend against it, very, very strongly, as Trump would say.
After all, APH doesn’t have the authority to mandate the use of face masks either, but the policy that it has put forward asking for their use has certainly been well accepted by the community..
In any event, this is behind us now. The thing now is to ensure it doesn’t happen again.