A church service event bringing roughly 260 people from across Canada to a Sault Ste. Marie hotel has sparked outrage and confusion locally.
The week-long event, hosted by an undisclosed church group, wraps up at the hotel Saturday. Quattro Hotel and Conference Centre General Manager Mike Braykovich says that both management and staff have been attacked and bullied on social media, receiving jeers, racialized insults and even death threats from the members of the public.
“We’re not hosting a conference, we’re hosting a church service event,” said Braykovich. “This church group has been very proactive and very diligent in ensuring that they follow not just guidelines established by the Ontario Government and Algoma Public Health, but they have done over and above what is required.”
Mayor Christian Provenzano used SooToday as a platform earlier this week to ask that people only socialize with those in their households, and discourage people from other parts of the province from coming to the Sault for non-essential reasons.
The mayor says that in the case of this week’s church service event, the gap between public health advice and what’s permitted by the provincial government is frustrating.
“What I have done, and will continue to do, is share and support the public health advice that we’re getting, and I recognize and acknowledge that there is a significant gap between the public health advice and activities that are permitted by the province,” said Provenzano. “As someone who is supporting public health and advocating for public health advice, I obviously find that frustrating.”
“It’s difficult to ask people to follow public health advice to keep each other safe when they see activities - permitted activities - that are obviously contrary or inconsistent with that advice.”
Provenzano says that the province has to ensure that its rules and regulations are consistent with the public health advice that is being offered through the respective regional public health authorities.
“I’ve worked hard to minimize my criticism of the provincial government during this pandemic because I believe that people are better served to see their political leaders working together, but I’m becoming increasingly frustrated by decisions being made by the provincial government, and how those decisions can reflect Algoma,” he told SooToday. “I’m frustrated by the testing capacity and the time it takes to get results from our tests here in Algoma - and this is another example of the challenges that we are facing.”
Nerdcon co-founder looks for answers from health unit
Nerdcon co-founder and organizer Beth Davison is left to wonder why Algoma Public Health pulled the plug on the annual celebration of pop culture when a church group was permitted by the health unit to host a national event in Sault Ste. Marie.
Nerdcon had plans to scale back its event with the cancellation of the video game tournament, in-house costume contest while cutting its number of vendors in half and eliminating food vendors altogether. And besides all that, Davison says, the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre is a large venue.
But a phone call from Algoma Public Health changed those plans.
“There was no question about what kind of safety precautions were in place, there was no, ‘do you mind if we come in and inspect to see what you have planned?’ It was none of that. It was just ‘no’ - straight up, flat out no,” Davison said.
She openly wonders if the health unit has a “logical reason” for allowing the church group event to happen.
“If I have to put off my shows to keep our district safe, I’m fine with that. I would love to know how Algoma Public Health thinks that bringing 300 people from all over the place is great. Did you see our numbers today? Over 900 cases in Ontario today,” Davison said.
All provincial regulations and requirements met for church event: Health unit
Algoma Public Health (APH) says it can’t prevent a premise or event from operating if they are in compliance with regulations set by the province, and that it doesn’t support or endorse specific gatherings or events.
The health unit continues to recommend against non-essential travel, and is advising the public to avoid close contact with people outside one's household, but notes that provincial regulations do not prohibit certain gatherings as long as the requirements set by the province are followed.
“Quattro Hotel was in contact with APH prior to the event and we outlined what the provincial regulations are and what they need to follow. The event could only proceed if all provincial regulations and requirements were met,” said Jonathan Bouma, the health unit’s manager of infectious diseases, in an email to SooToday Friday. “Public health recommendations were also provided if they chose to move forward.”
“Since the start of this event last weekend, APH public health inspectors have been involved in monitoring and checking event proceedings and participant behaviours, to verify that all provincial requirements continue to be met at this premise at all times.”
Quattro GM says hotel, church group went beyond mandatory COVID-19 guidelines
Meanwhile, Braykovich - who spoke with SooToday Friday on behalf of himself, management and staff at the hotel - is deeply disturbed by the public’s reaction to the church service event at Quattro Hotel and Conference Centre, and the outrage directed at hotel employees via social media.
“I have no words - I am speechless to see the level of hatred and hysteria coming out of it,” he said.
Braykovich says the church group - consisting primarily of families and elderly people from rural parts of Canada - has gone above and beyond in taking precautions, including pre-screening on its own members. International members and those travelling from COVID-19 hotspots were not permitted to attend. Arrivals to the hotel were staggered over a four-day period.
Braykovich says the group made social bubbles of 4-6 people, and larger groups consisting of 2-3 bubbles for each of the 13 rooms used for the church service event. Each room had audio and video capabilities so the entire congregation could watch and listen from the separate rooms.
Each of the groups were assigned an usher, who met with the hotel’s management team to discuss health and safety measures. Masks were worn at all times except for eating, and hand sanitizer had to be applied when entering and leaving rooms.
Braykovich says that as the largest conference centre in northern Ontario with over 12,000 square feet of space, Quattro provided attendees with more than six feet of space around them for physical distancing purposes.
He says that APH paid three visits to the event, asking for details while providing guidelines and recommendations along the way.
“They [APH] are under pressure as much as we are, but they know what works and what doesn’t work,” said Braykovich. “I can say at the end that we were way, way beyond mandatory guidelines.”
“And I am personally very disappointed with Sault Ste. Marie’s reaction to this.”