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Health Unit not revealing details on cluster of eight new COVID-19 cases

Largest single spike in local COVID cases since pandemic beganĀ 
Public Health Sudbury and Districts. (File)

In the span of one week, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the jurisdiction of the Sudbury health unit has jumped by 12 cases. That increase is 17.9 per cent of the region’s total caseload so far. Eight of those cases were reported on a single day, Monday July 27th

It is the largest single spike in local COVID-19 cases since Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) began compiling statistics as far back as March 1.

The health unit is declining to reveal any specific details of how the eight cases occurred or how they might be connected. Following is the response provided when asked if the cases were related.

"Public Health Sudbury & Districts follows-up on all reported cases, and directly with their close contacts, in order to determine potential source of exposure and to prevent further spread. In order to protect privacy of individuals, there are details that are not shared publicly unless there is a need to do so in order to protect public health. What we can say is that seven of the eight newly reported COVID-19 cases have exposures in common. This brings to 10 so far the number of cases in our area that have these exposures in common."

That answer is a more vague than comments provided by Public Health to the Canadian Press on Tuesday.

"Ottawa reported 25 cases on Tuesday, and Sudbury reported eight on Monday, seven of them in people under 19," said the CP story.

"A spokeswoman for Public Health Sudbury & Districts said one of the seven contracted the virus while travelling, and the other six were in contact with that person. The eighth person, a 30-year-old man, was infected through contact with a separate travel-related case, Karly McGibbon said."

PHSD said the travel criteria applies to anyone travelling outside the normal jurisdiction of the health unit. 

"Travel refers to areas outside of the Public Health Sudbury & Districts service area. Our service area includes the City of Greater Sudbury, and Districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin. Everyone should do a risk assessment before they travel outside of their local community or region," said PHSD.

The health unit also reported that the newest COVID cases are assigned to self-isolation for the standard period of 14 days.

"Depending upon the relevant circumstances, this period of time can start when symptoms are identified, when a test is collected, or when an individual had close contact with someone who has tested positive," said the response from PHSD. 

The health unit did not say if close family members of the infected persons would also be subjected to isolation. The health unit did not respond to whether the isolation period is somehow being enforced.

The spike in cases prompted a flurry of comments on local social media pages, Monday and Tuesday. Rumours have been swirling. did try to confirm two of them, but that proved difficult. 

One widely circulating rumour is the cases might have resulted from a "pit party" held with roughly 100 teenagers about two weeks ago. Another rumour suggested the event was actually a party of 75 teenagers held at a home, in the backyard, with the blessing of a parent. 

One reader wrote to to say she had heard from teenagers known to her son that the party was in Garson on the weekend of July 18 involving about 75 young people, aged 18 to 22.

"A mother there allowed her child to have a party," she wrote. "The kids who went were from various areas of the city," she added. She could not verify the details and admitted the comments came to her second-hand.

"Unfortunately I do not know for sure that authorities were notified, but rumour amongst the kids who were there is that the mom is being charged for allowing this."

Greater Sudbury Police told that no such charges have been laid, but without a name, it was hard to confirm that, police added.

The health unit said it had heard some of the talk of the public gatherings, but could not comment beyond that.

"Public Health Sudbury & Districts is aware of reports of a pit party. As part of our case and contact follow-up we investigate all potential sources of exposure and follow-up directly with close contacts of cases,” the health unit said. “In order to protect privacy of individuals, there are details that are not shared publicly unless there is a need to do so in order to protect public health."

Many of the social media commenters chided the alleged party people for simply not being able to tough it out and stay at home. Some people blamed out of town travellers from "down south" who visited Sudbury, or Sudburians who travelled to Southern Ontario and then came back home. Another person blamed the spike in cases on people who choose not to wear face masks. 

"This one is on you anti-maskers and non-distancers," wrote the commenter. 

As for contacting authorities if an incident of civil disobedience occurs, Greater Sudbury Police Service (GSPS) said there is a procedure involving the municipal bylaw office.

"All COVID-related calls are directed to 311 which then determines the appropriate agency to send the call to," said an e-mail response from Kaitlyn Dunn, the corporate communications person at GSPS. “In most cases, police are not the first response as bylaw officers have the authority to respond to these types of calls (depending on the priority of the call and the time the call comes in). We work in collaboration with the City of Greater Sudbury to address these issues.” 

That being said, Dunn also revealed that calls were received this past weekend.

"This past Friday (July 24th) we received two separate complaints regarding parties," Dunn revealed. "One call was received just after 10:15 p.m. regarding approximately 20-25 teens in the bush behind the Walmart in the South End. The individuals were gone prior to police arrival.

"The second call was received shortly after 11:30 p.m. regarding a house party at a residence in Garson. The call was primarily in relation to the noise and a large fire that could be seen. Both Police and Fire attended. The fire was extinguished by the homeowner and there were approximately 30 people on the property when Police arrived. Officers spoke with the homeowner regarding the noise and many people dispersed," said Dunn.

Sudbury 311 confirmed that it will handle all COVID-19 disobedience complaints and then pass that information onto the bylaw office. The 311 operator said she was aware that city operators had taken several complaint calls in recent weeks involving concerns from citizens about people not social distancing. When asked for information on those complaints, the reply was that information could not be revealed "for security reasons".

The 311 office also revealed that people calling in to complain about COVID-19 Province of Ontario Emergency Orders such as indoor and outdoor gatherings, should call 311 while the event is actually happening. It won't do to call in the next morning, or to wait until Monday if the event happened on a Saturday night. Sudbury 311 said it has an after-hours connection and if there is a serious complaint the call will be directed to someone who can respond. 

About the Author: Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at covering health care in northeastern Ontario and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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