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Trick-or-treating not recommended in hotspots this Halloween: Ontario’s top doctor

MICHELLE MORTON | posted Tuesday, Oct 20th, 2020

If you live in Ontario’s hotspots, Toronto, Peel, Ottawa, and York, and have been thinking about taking your kids door-to-door trick or treating — consider another way to celebrate Halloween.

That message from the province’s top doctor, Dr. David Williams, who announced public health advice for Halloween this year.

This advice comes the same day York Region begins its modified Stage 2 restrictions as the province continues to see rising new daily COVID-19 case numbers.

Canada is approaching the 200,000 COVID-19 case count, with Quebec, followed by Ontario, leading the numbers.

“As Ontarians begin to prepare for Halloween this year, I’d like to remind everyone to take extra precautions to ensure you are keeping yourself and your families safe,” Williams said.

Williams said given the high transmission of COVID-19 in the modified Stage 2 public health unit regions, door-to-door trick or treating is not recommended.

Instead, the province is recommending residents living in the hotspot regions to instead encourage kids to dress up and participate in virtual activities and parties, organize a Halloween candy hunt with people living in the same household, carving pumpkins, movie night, and to decorate front lawns.

Williams is also recommending that you check with your local municipality or public health unit for any additional advice or restrictions that may be in place.

RELATED: Restaurants near COVID-19 hotspots implement locals-only dining

“It is also critical that families not travel outside of their neighbourhood to celebrate Halloween,” Williams said.

Williams is also recommending Ontarians to avoid gatherings with people outside of their household, to stay home if you are feeling ill, or if you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19.

If you live outside the modified Stage 2 public health unit regions, and plan to go trick-or-treat, Williams recommends:

  • To only go out with members of your household.
  • Trick-or-treat outside.
  • Trick-or-treaters, and people handing out candy should wear a face covering, adding that a costume mask is not a substitute for a face covering, and shouldn’t be worn over a face covering because it may make it difficult to breathe.
  • Not congregate or linger at doorsteps and remember to line up two metres apart if waiting.
  • To avoid high-touch surfaces and objects.
  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly, or use hand sanitizer, whether collecting or handing out treats.
  • Not to leave treats in a bucket or bowl for children to grab and consider using tongs or similar tools to hand out treats.

 

“I would also like to remind everyone that we are in a second wave of COVID-19. There have been increases in cases in many areas across the province, and the percentage of people tested who get a positive result is going up,” Williams said.

“The severity of this second wave is in our hands. Through our collective efforts, we can change the outcome of this new outbreak,” he said.

RELATED: Two protests take over downtown Toronto Saturday

In order to protect your health and stop the spread of COVID-19, Williams is reminding you to continue following these actions:

  • Limit trips outside of you home, except for essential purposes.
  • Stay home if you feel ill or have mild symptoms.
  • Maintain physical distancing of at least two metres with those outside your household.
  • Wear a face covering indoors, and outdoors if physical distancing cannot be maintained, or if wearing one is required.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.
  • Follow social gathering and organized public event limits.
  • Download the COVID Alert mobile app.
  • If you are concerned you were exposed to COVID-19, or have symptoms, take the online COVID-19 self-assessment.
  • Get tested if you have symptoms compatible with COVID-19, or if you have been advised of exposure by your local public health unit or through COVID Alert.

 

To find the nearest COVID-19 testing location to you, the province has it listed for you online.

Dance classes allowed to resume in modified stage 2 regions of Ontario

MICHAEL RANGER | posted Tuesday, Oct 20th, 2020

Dance studios in COVID-19 hotspots throughout the province are being given the all-clear to reopen their doors.

The decision was made with advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Health and the Ministry of Health.

Studios were forced to close in Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa under the Ford Governments modified stage 2 emergency orders. Almost 25,000 people signed a petition for indoor dance classes to be able to resume.

Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod says that dancers will be required to pre-register for classes and adhere to physical distancing guidelines.

1 in 4 Canadians say their mental health is worse than during first COVID-19 wave

CHRIS REYNOLDS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Oct 20th, 2020

Canadians continue to experience mental health difficulties due to the pandemic, with one in four saying their stress level is higher than during the first COVID-19 wave, according to a new poll.

The online survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that only 19 per cent of Canadians say their mental health is better now than in March and April as infection rates tick up and autumn sets in.

However, about 54 per cent said their mental state is about the same as when the coronavirus first struck the country.

Participants cited concerns about the length and severity of the pandemic as their biggest source of anxiety, followed closely by social isolation and family health.

“If we cannot see extended family during the holidays and rekindle that positive energy that we get from family and friends, it might lead to a long winter,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

“It’s almost like, when is this thing going to end?”

Still, the proportion of Canadians who peg their mental health at very good or excellent has remained fairly consistent since March, ranging between 35 and 46 per cent. Last week saw the percentage at 36, according to the survey.

“It’s amazing that we did not go through more peaks and valleys,” Bourque said. “The number is not that positive, but that trend line seems to be hanging on, as if it’s resilience.”

Canadians proved less upbeat than their American counterparts, of whom 24 per cent said their mental health had improved since the outbreak began while only 16 per cent felt worse off, despite high case numbers across swaths of the United States.

Virtually half of Americans surveyed said their mental health was very good or excellent, compared with about one in three Canadians.

“I think ideologically there’s a whole segment of America that’s … trying to downplay the pandemic,” Bourque said.

“Some Americans just seem to think it will just go away. The president himself promised a vaccine in the next few weeks, right?”

Conducted Oct. 16 to 18, the online poll surveyed 1,512 adult Canadians and 1,001 Americans. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Total number of COVID-19 cases in Canada passes 200,000

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Oct 20th, 2020

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed Canada’s total case count past the 200,000 mark on Monday as tougher health restrictions took effect in some regions facing a surge in infections.

The latest numbers from Saskatchewan lifted the national tally over the bleak milestone as the province reported 66 new cases of the novel coronavirus, though other provinces reported significantly more new cases.

The development came just over four months after Canada reached the 100,000-case threshold.

The bulk of the country’s case load has been concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, though numbers have been surging in much of the country in recent weeks.

The 200,000-case milestone isn’t all that significant in and of itself but it does provide an opportunity to examine how the country is doing in grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, said Barry Pakes, a public health and preventative medicine physician with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Canada saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in late January and marked 100,000 cases in mid-June, about five months later.

That it took almost as long to double the caseload to 200,000 suggests public health measures slowed the virus’s spread to some degree in that time, Pakes said.

“That’s not how infectious diseases work – they double, and they go straight up on an exponential line, and when we put in proper public health measures we’re able to dull that somewhat, so I think that’s a testament to what we’ve been doing so far,” he said.

At the same time, it’s crucial to remember that Canada is in the midst of a second wave of the pandemic, and milestones such as this one can sometimes serve as a reminder not to let our guard down, he said.

“The problem arises when we rest on our laurels and I think we shouldn’t do that, but I think we can be sort of hopeful that we won’t see some of the numbers and some of the really big societal effects that have been seen in the U.S. or Europe,” he said.

“But it does remain to be seen.”

Quebec continued to lead in new daily cases, reporting 1,038 cases and six more deaths Monday – the fourth consecutive day it has seen more than 1,000 new infections.

Ontario, meanwhile, reported 704 new cases and four new deaths.

The province has reinstated stricter health measures in four regions – Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa – and Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s top doctor, recommended against traditional Halloween activities in those areas.

The tighter rules, which include closing gyms and movie theaters and barring indoor dining in restaurants or bars, kicked in for York Region on Monday but took effect earlier this month in the other three hot spots.

Williams said that when daily case counts began to rise again in September, the province predicted it would see new infections double every 10 to 12 days, which would have led to daily numbers in the 1,200 to 1,400 range by now. He noted that at the time, the City of Toronto also predicted seeing its cases double every six days if no additional steps were taken.

“Neither of us, fortunately, have seen that. Measures have been taken, they’ve dropped that down,” he said Monday.

The daily case numbers were slow to come down in the first wave but they did drop over time, “and I think we can do that again,” he said.

Manitoba reported 80 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, nearly two thirds of them in Winnipeg, as new restrictions on gatherings and businesses took effect in that city. The new rules limit gatherings to five people and force casinos and bars to close and will be reviewed in two weeks.

Meanwhile, the federal government announced Monday that limits on travel between Canada and the United States will remain in place until Nov. 21.

COVID-19 outbreaks declared at 2 Toronto hospitals, more than 30 affected

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Oct 19th, 2020

Two hospitals in the city core have declared outbreaks of COVID-19.

St. Joseph’s Hospital at 30 The Queensway and the University Health Network’s (UHN) Toronto Western Hospital located at 399 Bathurst Street are both reporting outbreaks of the disease within certain units.

In a statement, St. Joseph’s says they are “managing a significant number of confirmed COVID-19 cases” in four units at the hospital.

As of Sunday, there are a total of 29 people who are infected with the virus including 13 staff members. Of the 16 patients who have the virus, seven contracted the disease as part of the hospital outbreak.

The units affected are 3M, 4E, 2E and the 2L Medicine.

“We want to assure our community that St. Joseph’s is a safe place to receive care and emergency services,” said spokesperson Robyn Cox. “We have taken many measures to ensure this, including closing affected units to new admissions, further enhancing our cleaning and infection control procedures and implementing additional safety precautions for our staff, such as the mandatory use of face shields at all times in clinical spaces.”

St. Joseph’s says it will commence widespread testing of staff and patients in the coming days as well as implementing changes to its visitor policy.

Toronto Western Hospital says as of Oct. 15, two units – 8A and 8B – are seeing outbreaks of coronavirus. In a statement, the hospital says three patients and six staff members have tested positive for the virus as of Friday.

“There have been no additional positive swabs since that time. One unit – 8A cares for patients with the virus. The 9 cases above are presumed to be transmissions in hospital.”

UHN says their hospitals and emergency departments remain open and it’s safe to come to their facilities for medical care.

This is the second outbreak declared in both those units at Toronto Western in the last five months. The first outbreak outbreak occurred from April 28 to May 16. The hospital has not had an outbreak since June 5.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has also reported an outbreak at its Queen Street facility. They say two patients have tested positive for the virus on unit 1-4.

CAMH says they have implemented standard infection prevention and control procedures which includes closing the unit to admissions and transfers.

Man arrested after violently assaulting several pedestrians downtown

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Oct 19th, 2020

A 26-year-old Toronto man has been arrested after he threw a woman to the ground and assaulted several others in the downtown core Sunday morning.

Police say at around 9:15 a.m. a man walked into the intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets and struck the hood of a vehicle. He then proceeded eastbound on Dundas where he grabbed a woman and threw her to the ground.

The suspect then allegedly punched another man in the face before punching another man on a bicycle. He then assaulted several other people who attempted to intervene.

Diamond Ekanem is facing several charges including assault, causing a disturbance by fighting, shouting and swearing, and failing to comply with probation.

Restaurants near COVID-19 hot spots implement locals-only dining

HOLLY MCKENZIE-SUTTER, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Oct 19th, 2020

Some southern Ontario restaurants are making the tough financial choice to bar out-of-town customers from indoor dining as COVID-19 cases surge in nearby hot spots.

Ramshackle Industries, which owns four restaurants and bars in Stratford, Ont., first introduced the policy when restaurants reopened in June, slowly dialing it back as the pandemic waned this summer.

Now that the province has reintroduced tighter restrictions in Toronto, York and Peel regions and Ottawa amid the second wave of COVID-19, Ramshackle owner Jessie Votary said the rule is being enforced again.

Tourists are a “huge part” of the customer base in Stratford, especially in the summer months, but Votary said the safety of employees at the worker-owned businesses had to come first.

“We want the people to come, we just are also wary and sensible about what potential infection of our team could mean, and what potential infection of our community could mean,” Votary said in a telephone interview.

The restaurants have been explaining the rules before seating customers, with staff checking IDs in a handful of cases, and some non-locals have been turned away from indoor dining.

Votary said reactions have ranged from understanding to upset.

“We have people who throw up their hands and storm out, we have people who swear at the staff, but those people are merely showing we made the right decision to ask those questions,” she said.

Staff take a conversational approach to discussing the rule and they work to find alternatives for out-of-town customers, such as ordering take-out.

“It really is about being pleasant humans,” Votary said. “It’s about setting boundaries and then having conversations.”

Full-time workers earn a living wage at the establishments, rather than relying on tips, which Votary said made it easier to keep up with salaries while weathering some hits to profits.

The City of Stratford opened an outdoor dining area this summer with space for 200 people to bring their food and alcohol from local restaurants, which helped Ramshackle restaurants direct visiting customers outside to enjoy their takeout.

While Ramshackle Industries was an early adopter of local-only dining rooms, other establishments already battered by the pandemic are taking a similar approach in the face of rising infection rates near their communities.

The Ale House in Cobourg, Ont., announced Wednesday it was limiting indoor service to locals in response to the restrictions on Toronto, which is an hour’s drive away.

Owner Todd Oberholtzer said he struggled with the decision but ultimately made the move to protect the community, which has many older residents and employees who work multiple jobs in town.

“It’s very difficult for me,” Oberholtzer said. “I was just hoping to do something for my community.”

The small pub already lost significant business this summer, with less seasonal tourists and local residents stopping in, and no outdoor seating area.

There is a sign on the door explaining the locals-only rule, but Oberholtzer said it’s tough to enforce. He recognizes many of the regulars in the community already, and plans to take enforcement on a case-by-case basis.

“We kind of do it more of an honour system than anything else,” he said. “I just really don’t want to get shut down again.”

Romby’s Tavern and Smokehouse in St. Catharines, Ont., announced a similar policy just before Thanksgiving weekend. In an Oct. 9 Facebook post, the restaurant said proof of Niagara residency would be required to dine in “as an extra safety precaution for our staff, our customers and their loved ones.”

“Niagara, we are getting closer to another shutdown, let’s do what we can to avoid that for the sake of EVERYONE,” the post said.

Other business types have been forced to adapt quickly to the targeted restrictions during Ontario’s second COVID-19 wave, tackling the challenge of customers who would usually be welcome hopping between regions in the densely populated Greater Toronto Area.

Earlier this week, gym chains L.A. Fitness and GoodLife Fitness asked their clients not to travel from Toronto and Peel Region to work out at open facilities nearby.

GoodLife took the measure of freezing GoodLife members’ accounts in hot-zone regions on Oct. 10, preventing them from booking workouts in other areas.

In Stratford, Votary said the pandemic has already put restaurants in “an impossible situation,” so the loss of a few indoor diners doesn’t make much of a dent in an already brutal year – and community spread would make matters worse.

“A COVID infection in our team or a rise of cases in our community that shuts us back down to takeout only is an additional loss,” she said.

Woman who claims she was abused by Basilian priest now heads victim support network

ADRIAN GHOBRIAL AND JESSICA BRUNO | posted Monday, Oct 19th, 2020

CAUTION: This story contains graphic content related to allegations of sexual assault and might be upsetting to some readers.

If you or someone you know are victims of sexual violence, you can contact Crisis Services Canada, a 24/7 hotline, at 1-833-456-4566 or you can find local support through the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres; The Government of Canada has also compiled a list of sexual misconduct support centres. If you are under 18 and need help, contact the Kid’s Help Phone online or at 1-800-668-6868. 

To this day, Brenda Brunelle can’t breathe when she tilts her head back in the shower to wash her hair. It’s the lifelong result of the sexual assault she claims she endured as a young girl at the hands of a Catholic priest.

Brunelle grew up in a devout Catholic family in Windsor. In the late 1970s, she went to St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic elementary school, and was an altar server at the church.

“My father sold tickets to have that Church built. We were pioneers of St. Vincent De Paul Church and we were proud of that,” she says.

As a 12-year-old, she alleges she caught the eye of associate pastor Father Michael Fallona.

Fr. Fallona is a member of the Basilian Fathers, an order of Catholic priests who to this day have a hand in operating schools in North America.

Brunelle claims it all started with Fr. Fallona paying too much attention to her at school. She says she felt uncomfortable about the way he over-praised her for small tasks and gave her long hugs.

“I know that he loved the smell of my hair and the color of it,” she tells CityNews. “He would stand behind me and fondle me. Smell my hair. Literally eating it, is how I would describe the experience.”

She alleges he would ask her to come to the church to help with chores. She says Fr. Fallona asked her to come change a lightbulb and claims that’s the first time the priest groped her.

“He held the ladder for me, and I climbed up,” she says. “As I was up on the ladder with my arms suspended in the air, I could feel his hands go up my leg – I panicked.”

This is the first time Brunelle is publicly discussing the details of the abuse she says she endured; “I’ve never disclosed [it] with my family and certainly not my husband.”

She tells CityNews her encounters with Fr. Fallona escalated from inappropriate touching to sexual assault.

One day, “he had me cleaning wicks off of candles used for a service at church,” Brunelle claims. “He reached behind me and was hugging me saying thank you for coming.”

“He was eating my hair again; he was fondling me with his hands again and at this point I could feel something in the spine of my back as he’s standing behind me. I know what that was today if someone was to ask me. At the time, it was an unusual feeling.”

“I was guided to sit on the chair away from the candles, which I was there to (clean). While I was sitting down he stood in front of me and before I knew it he had exposed himself. And umm… that was the last encounter I had with Fr. Fallona.”

Though the alleged abuse took place decades ago, Brunelle still struggles with sharing what happened next on that day.

“All of this abuse happened inside the Catholic church,” she says. “It didn’t happen in the basement, it didn’t happen in the rectory, it didn’t happen in school yard, this all took place in the church, in front of the altar, if you will.”

Fr. Fallona is 82 years old. CityNews understands he is living at a retirement residence for clergy in Toronto.

We reached out to the Basilians multiple times, asking for interviews with Fr. Fallona and Vicar General David Katulski. Our requests were denied. However, the Basilian’s lawyer sent CityNews an open letter signed by Fr. Fallona. The letter claims he never abused Brunelle or anyone else.

“Ms. Brunelle’s allegations that I abused her seem to be reported by the media as though her allegations are true, which places me in the position of having to prove it did not happen,” the letter states, “I cannot prove a negative.”

After reading the letter, it took Brunelle weeks to feel composed enough to respond.

“He denied it then, he’s denying it now. But the author of that letter, the lawyers that represented the Church, the lawyers that represented him, were all present at his discovery in the room that I also sat in with my own attorney,” she says. “They know the truth, they know the truth, so shame on them.”

A lifetime of faith

Despite the alleged abuse, Brunelle continued to be active in the Church. She says she hinted to her parents about her discomfort with Fr. Fallona, but never told them what was going on. She asked them if she could stop going to Sunday service, but her parents, who didn’t understand why, said no.

At the time, Fr. Fallona “said to me that he would forgive me provided I didn’t tell anybody,” Brunelle alleges. “If I did say something to somebody, I would go to hell.”

As a woman, Brunelle’s allegations place her in the minority of victims. One study of nearly 11,000 cases of clergy abuse in the U.S. between 1950 and 2002, conducted on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, found that more than 80 per cent of those abused have been male.

“I felt like I was contributing to that end result and felt terribly responsible that I made him fall from grace.”

For decades, Brunelle told no one about what allegedly happened to her. Her children were baptized and raised in the same church. She married her second husband there. A health crisis in 2008 is what she says prompted her to seek closure. She wanted to find Fr. Fallona and apologize to him.

“I believed I was responsible for what had happened. Not this priest. He was God,” she explains. “That it was the color of my eyes that he enjoyed so much, the smell of my hair, the color of my hair that … I felt like I was contributing to that end result and felt terribly responsible that I made him fall from grace.”

Brunelle says her experience shaped the rest of her life, telling CityNews she never had a chance to develop a healthy sense of sexuality or intimacy – something she says contributed to issues in both her marriages.

When Brunelle first reached out, she says the Basilians told her Fr. Fallona denied knowing her and refused to meet with her. That refusal, according to Brunelle, gave her clarity that she was actually the victim all those years earlier.

Later that year, Brunelle sued the Basilians and Fr. Fallona. Her lawyer Paul Ledroit tells CityNews if the Basilians “had acted in a rational, human, Christlike way, the lawsuit would have never been brought. Brenda would have never had to meet me. She was hurting for all her life.”

The Basilians refused to comment on the case. However, files obtained by CityNews indicate they sent a priest to interview Brunelle about her allegations. The Catholic investigator wrote in his report that her claims were “quite credible.” The priest also spoke to Fr. Fallona, who denied all the allegations.

However, it turned out the priest kept a meticulous journal for years. Discovered during the legal battle, it made note of Brenda in 1977: “Fix church up – Brenda Hartman” (Brenda’s pre-marriage name).

Brunelle says she had no way of knowing the diary even existed before launching her suit. Ledroit says the discovery was a turning point in her case.

During Brunelle’s suit in 2011, the Basilians placed Fr. Fallona on a personal safety plan. It included not going near kids without being accompanied by an adult aware of his situation. He was also prohibited from traveling outside the Archdiocese of Toronto without permission. He was also barred from working as a priest but allowed to keep the title.

In 2012, the Basilians settled out of court with Brunelle for an amount she cannot make public because of a non-disclosure agreement. In the open letter, Fr. Fallona disagrees with how the case was concluded.

“It was determined (by others) that a settlement was a more practical way to deal with the situation. As Ms. Brunelle knows, it was settled on the basis there was no admission of liability whatsoever.”

Brunelle now spends her time volunteering as the head of a Canadian survivors’ support network called SNAP. She’s calling on religious institutions across the country to release a list of priests who face credible allegations of sexually assaulting children.

When asked what she would say to Fr. Fallona today if she was given the opportunity, Brunelle tells CityNews: “He’s taken a lifetime away from me. I don’t know that I care to have anything more to say to him.”

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