No customers known to be affected in COVID-19 outbreak at Vaughan grocery store, York Region officials say

TORONTO — York Region health officials said Thursday that they only issued a notice yesterday about a COVID-19 supermarket outbreak stretching back to early April “out of an abundance of caution” and said no customers were affected.

“So the reason for issuing a public notice like this is to alert the public about any sort of potential exposure,” Scott Cholewa, Chief of Operations for York Region’s COVID-19 Emergency Response, told CP24 Thursday. “So in a setting like a grocery store, we know that the risk of transmission is very low.”

He added that “the reason we issue a public notice like this is out of an abundance of caution to really alert the public that this possibly could have occurred, and for individuals to monitor themselves for signs and symptoms.”

On Wednesday evening, York Region Public Health issued a news release advising the public that an outbreak linked to Concord Food Centre went back as far as April 8 and advised anyone who shopped at the store between then and May 21 to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

Symptoms of the virus typically present within 14 days of infection.

Public health officials said Wednesday that they declared a workplace outbreak at the store on May 12, leaving many people who regularly shop there puzzled as to why they were being notified two weeks later.

The health unit told CP24.com Wednesday that it was “timely” to inform the public now because the last employee who had tested positive was at work on May 21.

Many people took to social media to express anger that they were only being notified of the outbreak two weeks after it was declared and more than six weeks after it began.

“What kind of contact tracing is this?!” one Twitter user wrote. Others asked why the store was not shut down and why it took so long to notify people. Many said they had no idea there were cases at the store.

Cholewa told CP24 Thursday that health officials look at each case to determine whether a notification is necessary.

“It comes down to also looking at when the cases are reported to us, and also when it comes to any sort of notification perspective. So when we saw transmission was still continued beyond the 12th, and there’s a window of opportunity for that 14-day notification and monitoring period, that’s when we would like to notify and again as I said it’s an abundance of caution.”

He said the health unit is not required to issue a notice about a workplace outbreak under provincial guidelines but did so as a precaution.

The father and son who run the store told CP24 Thursday that they are as confused as anyone else as to why public health officials chose to notify the public yesterday.

“As far as why this has come out at this particular time it’s a little confusing,” Anthony Greco told CP24 Thursday. “We’ve been nothing but transparent, working with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour, every other day. They knew all about it. We notified all our employees about it.”

Owner Joe Greco said he came out to speak to one upset customer outside the store this morning.

He said he told her that not one cashier tested positive for the virus.

“Not one cashier ended up getting COVID. It was all, the majority, it was backroom receiving,” Joe Greco said.

He clarified that all but two employees have recovered and are now back at work and said that cases spread quickly because of a variant.

His son Anthony Greco said the store has been working with public health officials almost daily and has been taking direction from them.

“They tell us what procedures to take so we we’re going based on the book, based on what they told us to do,” he said.

York Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Karim Kurji has previously said that the region can manage COVID-19 through contact tracing and case management rather than tight lockdown restrictions.

Workplace outbreaks have been one of the key drivers of infection in the third wave.

Data published by York Region on May 21 listed 34 active workplace outbreaks in the region. There have been 480 workplace outbreaks in the region that are now resolved.

As of Wednesday, York Region was reporting 717 active cases of COVID-19.

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