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Think sneaking a social call might cure your cabin fever? You might want to think twice

With predictions of warm weekend weather, you can’t blame anyone for wanting to get out of the house and shake the soul-crushing case of cabin fever they’ve developed over weeks of being housebound. 

You might be asking (for a friend, of course) what about small family gatherings? Will those be happening soon? 

On Thursday, Dr. Chris Mackie, the region’s top doctor, was asked that very question on CBC Radio One’s London Morning. Here’s what he said:

“If it’s happening in your home, there really isn’t a prohibition, it’s more of a recommendation to minimize those, so you’ve got to make a judgment call,” he told host Rebecca Zandbergen. 

“If there’s a new baby in the family or some other significant moment, it might be worth having those small gatherings. There’s absolutely no enforcement and prohibition, it’s just a recommendation at this point. So yes, I think that’s the kind of thing where people will start to make judgment calls.”

What the legislation actually says

However, the government of Ontario says it is clearly prohibited to gather in groups of five or more anywhere during the pandemic, whether for religious rites, social gatherings, even parades. 

The legislation even goes to the pain of spelling it out so there isn’t any room for misinterpretation. 

“For greater certainty, subsection (1) applies to an event or gathering even if it is held at a private dwelling,” it states. 

The only exceptions, according to the legislation, are funerals, which are limited to 10 people or less. Or if the gathering represents the “members of a single household.”

‘People need to make a judgement call’

Even in the privacy of your own home, your little get together could be illegal, if it involves a group of five people or more who aren’t in your immediate family or attending a funeral. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Where Mackie was right is the fact that people “need to make a judgement call.” That is, take a risk-based approach on the likelihood of potential transmission of the coronavirus and, perhaps more immediately, the chances of being caught. 

Anyone thinking of sneaking a visit should remember, eyes are everywhere. Early in the pandemic, the City of London, created a hotline for people to call in their concerns about people breaking the rules of physical distancing. 

The city’s top bylaw officer, Orest Katolyk, said the city has received more than 6,000 complaints in the last month. Of those, gatherings of five people or more is second only to non-essential businesses being open when it comes to the most common complaints.

Katolyk said the types of gatherings people complain about usually happen in public parks. He said complaints about what happens inside private homes doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar. 

Bylaw officers will not enter your home

Bylaw officers do not to investigate complaints about gatherings of five people or more inside a family home because the issue is morally grey. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“There’s not a lot of those (complaints) from the public,” he said. “The ones we do have, we haven’t gone out to check.” 

The reason for that, he said, is because bylaw officers can’t enter your home without a warrant from a judge. Even then, they have to be sure that the gathering of more than five people includes individuals from outside the household. 

“We just can’t know,” he said. “That could be a family of six.” 

It’s also not worth their time. Katolyk said by the time bylaw officers show up to a gathering of five or more people, the group has usually dispersed. 

Still, he said, there is a possibility bylaw officers will ticket you if you’re having something like a backyard bbq, but most of the enforcement action is happening in city parks. 

“We know it’s going to be a nice weekend weather-wise and we are staffed up. When it comes to parks you shouldn’t be playing sports or hanging out in them. The only thing you should be doing is walking through them.” 

‘Limiting your gatherings is the safest thing to do’

So as long as you keep your gathering low-key and away from the prying eyes of the neighbours, you should be in the clear, but are we getting mixed messages from the authorities?

Dr. Chris Mackie was asked to clarify his earlier statement during the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday. 

He said it’s a question of risk. Not so much the risk of being caught, but the risk of spreading the illness. 

“Yes, it is something you should think about very carefully before you do.” 

“I’m not going to say to people, ‘you should never visit loved ones.’ As much as that’s the recommendation from the public health point of view, there’s all sorts of other things, including mental health and wellbeing, that people need to take into account.” 

“The recommendation hasn’t changed; limiting your gatherings is the safest thing to do from the perspective of spreading the coronavirus,” he said. “Absolutely, keep those gatherings to a minimum.” 

“Beyond that, you can know there’s not going to be guns blazing enforcement inside peoples’ homes.”

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