The owner of the restaurant and hotel – who is hospitalized with COVID-19 – said officials had taken an unnecessarily ‘big stick’ approach to containing the outbreak by ordering the site to close and forcing all staff to self-isolate for 14 days, which cost the operation. thousands of dollars in business. “My goal with public health is to find out why to go and [not] have a contingency plan on how we can shorten downtime and keep this business viable, ”Bryan Baraniski wrote from his hospital bed, while on oxygen, at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon , Tuesday.
“I didn’t go looking for COVID but I got it and I’m the bad guy, not a victim,” he said of how he felt treated.
“Subsequent social gatherings facilitated transmission”
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) declared an outbreak at the Shorebird Inn in Tobin Lake, Saskatchewan, located 34 kilometers northeast of Nipawin on March 10.
The next day, the SHA issued a press release warning that one or more people had visited the Shorebird’s restaurant despite being contagious from March 1-9.
This outbreak was also a factor in why health officials subsequently alerted the public several days later of the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission in the Nipawin area, a SHA spokesperson said in a letter. electronic to CBC News this week.
The health authority has also tightened the rules for visitors to local health facilities.
“The initial transmission took place at the Shorebird Inn and subsequent social gatherings facilitated the transmission,” the spokesperson said.
The 15 cases linked to the outbreak so far are from the northeastern region of Saskatchewan, according to the SHA.
“The contact tracing investigation is continuing and we have not confirmed any positive cases outside this area,” the spokesperson said.
As of Thursday, the “Northeast 1” area, which includes Tobin Lake, Nipawin and 10 other communities, had 49 active cases of COVID-19 – more than any surrounding area.
‘They came with the big stick’
On March 7, three days before the Shorebird Inn outbreak was declared, a relative took Baraniski to hospital because he was having tremors and was not feeling well, he said.
“I thought maybe I could hide at home and it might go away,” Baraniski said of his illness.
The next day, Baraniski tested positive for COVID-19. He has been in intensive care for several days, but is now in a room with three other COVID-positive patients in Saskatoon, he said.
“I’m still holding mine,” Baraniski said over the phone Thursday, his oxygen supply making a low hiss. “I’ll be here for a while yet. ”
On the day Baraniski tested positive, public health officials went to the hostel and ordered the business shut down and all workers quarantined for two weeks, Baraniski said.
“Anyone considered to be in close contact with someone who has tested positive should self-isolate for 14 days,” the SHA spokesperson said.
Baraniski said he spent most of his time in an office at the 13,000 square foot hostel, not in the restaurants section. He said public health cast too wide a net when deciding on close contact, including staff he does not come into frequent contact with.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority spokesperson said that when close contacts of a COVID-positive person are found, “case investigators assess the risk for any potential close contacts and notify people if they need to self-self. -isolate or self-monitor according to this risk. Evaluation. This can cause many employees of the same company to self-isolate. ”
The Shorebird Inn reopened on Monday with permission from health officials, after a week of deep cleaning, he said.
Baraniski said he should have been allowed to reopen earlier using retirees and former staff.
“I think public health could have sat down with [us] and said, ‘OK, we’ve got to shut this place down, we’ve got to clean it up, clean it up, and then somehow get you back on track.’ There were no such speeches. There was no consideration that this building was on autopilot. As far as I’m concerned, they came with the big stick. ”
March is the fourth busiest month for shorebirds. Baraniski estimated that the business lost at least $ 60,000 by being closed for two weeks.
“The government may be trying to slow the transmission of COVID, but [it’s] killing the hospitality industry by doing so, ”he said.
The owner has already received a ticket for not wearing a mask
This month’s shutdown was not Baraniski’s first contact with the COVID-19 rules.
In January, Baraniski was fined $ 2,800 for not wearing a mask at the hostel in December. He wrote on his Facebook page about the delivery of the ticket by the RCMP officers.
“They made a random visit to Shorebird [during which] they filmed me without a mask, “he wrote.” A nice fine of $ 2,800. I am going to court because I refuse to pay it at the moment. I’ll bring money on the day of the hearing in case I lose. ”
On Wednesday, Baraniski wrote on his Facebook page that “there is no scientific proof that the masks work”.
“I’m against masks,” he told CBC News when asked if he was an anti-mask, adding that he didn’t think they should be mandatory.
“I wear them with respect for other companies, I’ve never had a problem doing so. I don’t think they work. And I don’t think it has anything to do with me catching them. Doctors here say all it takes is an aerosol droplet. of an infected person to land on something and you touch your eyes or your mouth and you have it. ”
Saskatchewan Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Saqib Shahab stressed the importance of wearing masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in September 2020.
“We know that wearing a mask reduces community transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” then Health Minister Jim Reiter said. “High levels of mask use in other jurisdictions have been linked to reductions in COVID-19 cases. ”
The Shorebird Inn has taken COVID-19 precautions, including spaced tables and daily sanitization, Baraniski said.
“We try to socialize as best we can, because it is sometimes difficult to do that,” said Baraniski. “Most of my employees wore masks all the time. Some would pull them off their necks once they were away from customers or behind the bar making drinks.
“I did not insist on the problem,” he continued. ” But [I] wanted them to make the attempt if they could not distance themselves socially. They all knew the fine could come with it. ”
The health authority said “subsequent social gatherings facilitated transmission” of the outbreak from Shorebird Inn, but did not give further details.
The hostel announced on Facebook that it was offering take-out meals on March 6. According to this post, 200 people registered to participate in an ice fishing derby on Tobin Lake that day.
“Customers always arrive with their masks. They take them off once they are seated. We do a lot of take out so they keep their masks on, ”Baraniski said.
The derby was organized by a committee of volunteers unrelated to the hostel, said Amy Shipley, mayor of Tobin Lake.
“They stood there for about 10 seconds giving us their names, we gave them their envelope and that’s it,” Shipley said. “They were told they had to follow all regulations relating to public health rules. ”
Everyone wore a mask and participants emailed photos of their fish, she added.
Owner believes the business has been targeted
Asked about the use of his own mask at the hostel, Baransiki replied: “There are several times that I did not wear a mask. ”
Baransiki said he felt his business was being targeted.
“I would like to know if I would have been treated any differently if we all followed the guidelines more closely than we were. Or was it a ‘We’ll show him? “”
CBC News asked the Department of Health on Wednesday how many times the Shorebird Inn had been ticketed for COVID-19 rule violations and what the nature of those alleged violations was.
The ministry referred to the provincial government’s daily press releases on COVID-19, which include mentions of any tickets issued but do not identify the recipients.