Weddings in Toronto are spreading COVID-19. Experts say it’s time to stop ‘mixed messages’ at large gatherings

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While Toronto waits for even more restrictions to contain surging COVID-19 levels, a major contributor to infections – weddings – is not subject to a specific cap on the number of guests that can congregate.

And while infections caused by large weddings in York Region and other communities in the 905 Belt grab the headlines, public health data provided to The Star shows that wedding ceremonies are also leading to the spread of the disease. COVID-19 here.

Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, said allowing crowds to attend weddings, funerals or religious rites, while banning eating inside and begging Torontonians to stay at home, is dangerous and makes no sense.

“How can you tell all of us that we can’t partner with other people, but then you can have up to 50 people at a wedding? There are so many inconsistencies now. I think one of the reasons people get tired of COVID is because of the mixed messages, ”Banerji said.

“I know people can be impatient and want to get married. Hold a civil ceremony, then hold the celebration when there is a vaccine or the numbers have dropped. This is not the moment.

“If we are to get this virus under control, we have to restrict larger gatherings.”

Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce significant new restrictions for viral hotspots in Toronto, Peel and York on Friday.

Toronto officials won’t reveal what regional restrictions they’ve asked the province to impose, but Mayor John Tory is using capacity limits for malls and stores as an example of one way to limit “crowds.” »Risking infecting.

Conservatives and public health chief Dr Eileen de Villa pleaded with residents to stay home except for essential outings, to only socialize with other household members, and to avoid close contact with others. inside with anyone.

De Villa ordered banquet halls and event spaces, as well as indoor dining, to be closed in a crackdown that began on November 14. People always get married in homes, churches, Airbnbs, and other spaces.

De Villa only recommended – not ordered – that weddings be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors. A provincial ordinance limits weddings and funerals to 30% of a venue’s capacity, with a physical distance but no maximum number.

Asked recently about her decision not to put weddings under an order, de Villa said this could be reconsidered if evidence suggests a hard cap on participation was warranted.

Toronto Public Health is aware of 10 marriages in Toronto between late August and October where participants were exposed to COVID-19. Half of the marriages have triggered outbreaks, where two or more cases are linked to the event.

“In total, TPH is currently aware of 93 confirmed cases of COVID-19 associated with these events,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto assistant medical officer of health, on Tuesday.

But that’s probably an underestimation of infections triggered by marriage, she added, “because people may not always disclose that they attended the wedding and, in some cases, symptomatic contact and / or relatives refused to be tested.

TPH also determined that “metrics were not followed at the majority of these events, primarily by participants (eg, do not wear masks, no physical distancing).”

In addition, “weddings and guests were not always open about the details of the wedding during our inquiries. “

Among those infected at Toronto weddings were people who returned home in York, Peel, Durham and Waterloo regions.

Torontonians have also brought the virus from marriages to other parts of Ontario.

At least nine Torontonians were among 89 confirmed or suspected cases linked to four York Region marriages and associated gatherings, held between November 2 and November 17.

About 100 or more guests attended three of the events, including 140 celebrants in a banquet hall at Chateau le Jardin in Vaughan. Local public health officials said that place and another that hosted 130 people were following anti-virus precautions.

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Patrick Casey, a spokesperson for York Region, said in an email: “Some people choose to come together or attend a symptom-bearing event (COVID-19), even if they are mild, because that they don’t want to miss the event.

“We cannot stress enough, stay home if you are sick, even if your symptoms are mild.”

Some weddings are widespread events, such as the one in Ohio where 32 of 83 guests were infected, including the bride, groom, and three of their four grandparents.

An Aug. 7 wedding in Maine spread the virus to 177 people, seven of whom have died.

Toronto brides and wedding event professionals said small ceremonies with strict protocols went safely every day, while recognizing the risks if alcohol, familiarity, or other aspects of meeting family and friends lead to failures.

Toronto Wedding Chapel owner Katherine Parris said she hosts 15-20 weddings a week, each with a maximum of 10 people, in her 750-square-foot space near Yonge Street and the ‘avenue Eglinton.

No food or drink, wearing a mask except for brief designated times, and personnel temperature checks are part of the precautions to avoid infection. “We’re so careful,” Parris said, adding that it was “irresponsible” to have big weddings now.

Versa Joshi planned her wedding for mid-September during the pandemic. They hosted 45 people at a ceremony in her parents’ large courtyard, then a subsequent reception with 40 different people on a hotel terrace.

Opulent Event Designs ensured that anti-virus measures such as distance, masks and sanitizers keep the event safe without defining it, Joshi said, adding that she was happy to have opted for a small wedding now. rather than wait until after the pandemic.

Opulent owner Sukhy Singh has attended weddings like Joshi’s, where guests have followed the rules, and others where they have engaged in risky behavior.

Couples should have to hire bylaw officers to attend their wedding and provide security, she suggested.

“Most people obey, but as soon as people get mixed up, the masks can fall off,” Singh said. “There were times when I felt like I should have called the city or the bylaws officer to complain about my clients.”

Her staff arrived to dismantle tents for a wedding party in the courtyard outside of Toronto and found around 70 people dancing.

“You can’t do this in a pandemic,” Singh said.

David Rider is the Bureau Chief of Star’s City Hall and a journalist covering town hall and city politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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