Holiday gathering mixed messages about ‘harm reduction’

Local Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – The region’s top doctor says he’s “struggling” with the apparent mixed messaging over whether people should be getting together during the holidays.

The Ontario government’s COVID-19 Response Framework says “organized public events and social gatherings” such as parties, dinners, barbecues or wedding receptions held in private residences, backyards, or parks can be 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors where social distancing can be maintained. The rules apply to the Green-Prevent, Yellow-Protect and Orange-Restrict categories.

Meantime, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit issued a notice Nov. 27 where it “strongly advised” people to “celebrate the holidays only with individuals from their household.”

The health unit threw out alternative family activities, such as virtual events, movie watching, outdoor decorating and donating to charity.

“I believe while most people will abide by it, some people will not and I’d rather have safe guidance documents,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis told Cornwall Newswatch.

“I’m struggling with that as well. Even our guidance documents, I struggled with it saying, okay, we are going to give this option but people will ignore it, some people will ignore it.”

Roumeliotis says it’s not meant to be a “double message” but about “harm reduction.”

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit region has a rolling average of nearly 28 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, flirting with the possibility that it could move into the Orange-Restrict category like it did a few weeks ago.

Most of the recent infections have not been community spread but have been happening either in long-term care homes or are isolated positive cases infecting other family members in their own home.