• Rob Hornberger

Health unit refuses to ease limits on bar, restaurant capacity amid fear of outbreaks

Kingsville council says businesses being hurt during the 'critical' holiday season
The Elite Restaurant on Main Street West in Kingsville was the site of a recent COVID-19 outbreak. At least 45 people were infected.

KINGSVILLE — The Windsor-Essex County Health-Unit (WECHU) says it is not prepared to end restrictions on the number of people allowed in bars and restaurants, despite a plea from Kingsville council.

The new restrictions came into effect Dec 5 and limits the number of people who can enter bars or restaurants to 50 per cent capacity. The restrictions followed a COVID-19 outbreak in Kingsville after a party at the Elite Restaurant on Main Street West.

At least 45 people were infected.

Kingsville council unanimously passed a resolution Monday requesting the restrictions be eased.

“As long as we continue making policy on case counts we’re never going to get out of this,” said Coun. Kimberly DeJong. “I’m really disappointed to see that these decisions are being made at the time they are being made to hurt businesses at a time they are most needing a boost.”

At a press briefing Monday, WECHU acting director Dr. Shanker Nesathurai said the unit is not currently considering relaxing the restrictions.

He said “dining events” are high-risk activities for spreading the virus.

Nesathurai said the unit is worried outbreaks caused by restaurant gatherings will spread to children and force school closures.

“We know that events, without speaking to the outbreak at the restaurant in Kingsville, we know how outbreaks travel to schools and then also travel to other recreational events,” he said.

“The number one goal is to keep schools open for instruction.”

Nesathurai admitted it is a difficult trade-off.

“The question is always is it more important to have a large meal or have a large number of people gather at a restaurant or is it more important for one’s child to go to school.

"Those are the sort of bold trade-offs. But then, in Windsor-Essex, our goal is to keep schools open … to keep schools open we have to articulate the restrictions on dining. I think that’s a valid and fair trade-off.”

“It’s out of our hands. But we’re ready to serve people safely and soundly at full capacity. So give us the green light.”

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos also expressed disappointment the health unit wouldn’t relent on capacity limits.

“It was unlevelling of the playing field here for restaurants at a time of the year that is critical to them,” he said in an interview.

Vern Wiley, owner of Vernon’s Tap and Grill, said his restaurant has made adjustments to past lockdowns and will make the necessary changes needed to comply with the recent cut in capacity limits.

“It’s out of our hands,” Wiley said. “But we’re ready to serve people safely and soundly at full capacity. So give us the green light.”

As a result of the capacity limits, Vernon’s Bar and Grill has experienced a large upswing in takeout orders.

The health unit said Tuesday the first case of the Omicron variant has been reported in Windsor-Essex.

Nesathurai said the Omicron variant is more easily transmitted than Delta but produces milder to moderate symptoms.

“Vaccination is effective in reducing the severity of the illness,” he said.

“Stated another way, if you’re vaccinated, you are less likely to be infected, admitted to ICU or dying.”

In a press briefing last Thursday, Nesathurai said there is no indication the use of fake proof-of-vaccination certificates was responsible for the Elite outbreak.

To curb the use of fake documents, the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care announced Friday the introduction of new QR codes to ease the screening of vaccine certificates and prevent fraud.

Ontario residents will be required to have the enhanced vaccine certificates effective Jan. 4, 2022.

In an email exchange, ministry spokesperson W.D. Lighthall said people providing inaccurate or falsified information to a business could receive a ticket for $750, or a penalty of up to $100,000 and up to a year in jail.

He said that between Sept. 21 and Dec. 5 provincial offences officers made 8,333 visits to businesses and organizations to raise awareness of “COVID-19 safety requirements.”

Ontario residents can download their enhance certificates at https://covid-19.ontario.ca/book-vaccine/.

Data released Monday by the health unit showed 340,182 Windsor and Essex County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, The unit said 82.4 per cent of residents five-years-old and up have received one dose; 77.6 per cent are fully vaccinated.

There have been 479 COVID-19 deaths in the region.

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