By Chad Ingram
This weekend is Thanksgiving and, like most everything in 2020, it will be different than usual.
As the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario drags on towards seven months, the number of confirmed new daily cases in the province is way up from the summer, hitting a record 732 last Friday. It’s widely forecast that numbers will surpass 1,000 by mid-month. The long-predicted second wave of the virus appears to be upon on us in Ontario.
Enter Thanksgiving. On the record-setting occasion of last Friday, the provincial government announced it was “pausing” the 10-person social bubble recommendation that has been in place for months, asking Ontarians to revert to having close contact only with those in their own household, as was the case when the pandemic began in the spring.
When Premier Doug Ford and other officials – including the province’s health minister and chief medical officer – were asked directly during last Friday’s press conference whether people should be getting together with extended family for Thanksgiving, no one was willing to give a direct answer. Rather, responses were vague, including phrases like “keep your circle tight,” and “hunker down.”
No one wanted to provide a direct response because telling Ontarians they can’t spend Thanksgiving with their families when a host of businesses – including bars, restaurants, gyms and casinos – remain open is incongruent and contradictory.
You can have Thanksgiving dinner alongside 99 strangers at a restaurant or banquet hall, but not at Aunt Janice’s. That’s going to be as difficult to swallow as dry stuffing for some people. Yes, it’s true that you’re not going to be tempted to greet those 99 strangers the way you would loved ones at Aunt Janice’s, but the contradiction is glaring.
While numbers of daily confirmed cases of the virus may be equivalent to what they were in the spring, the proverbial landscape looked much different at the time. Most types of businesses had been mandated closed. And while there are calls to revert to at least Stage 2 of the provincial COVID-19 recovery framework, mandating more types of businesses to close their doors or increase restrictions, at press time, that had not happened.
We haven’t even touched on the biggest contradiction yet, which is the fact that in September, a couple of million students in Ontario’s publicly funded schools headed back to the classroom. Yes, those of a certain age (or all students, in our school board) must wear face masks, but the fact is that a child entering a school is subject to the germs of hundreds of other students five days a week. The idea of social bubbles was essentially burst with the return to school.
As for Aunt Janice’s, while many Ontarians will heed the provincial call and keep their Thanksgiving gatherings to their own households, many will not, risking fines to get together for what will technically be illegal Thanksgiving feasts in some cases.