Fit4Less is reaching out to some of its Sault Ste. Marie membership this week after an employee at the fitness club tested positive for COVID-19.
The initial notifications were sent to an undisclosed number of members via email Thursday, advising them of the times the affected employee was in the facility from Oct. 10-18.
In a subsequent email update from Fit4Less issued Friday, members were advised that only close contacts would be contacted directly by Algoma Public Health (APH).
“If you have not been directly contacted by Algoma Public Health by email or phone, you are not considered a close contact and no further action is required,” read the email obtained by SooToday.
Inconsistent messaging causing confusion, says gym member
A member of the gym - who spoke with SooToday Friday on the condition of anonymity - says they consider themselves to have been in what they would describe as close contact with the affected employee six times within the time period listed by the club, and wonders why they weren’t contacted directly by the health unit.
“OK, I came into close contact and...that’s it,” they said. “There’s no directive from them, so I’ve been told to just continue living my life as if nothing ever happened.”
The gym member says they have no intention of being tested at this point, having already spent a week running errands around town and spending time with family before learning of the positive case in their gym.
“I don’t think it was thorough, I don’t feel as if they did the contact tracing that they said they did,” they said. “Everyone on the list should’ve been at least called and discussed the kind of contact they had at the gym with members of staff.
“But you don’t get the opportunity - you were just told that they’re going to call us. They don’t say anything about calling them if you’re concerned. There’s nothing about that at all.”
In an email response to SooToday Friday, Fit4Less said the initial email received by members was sent out of an “abundance of caution,” and that the employee who tested positive for COVID-19 indicated they were not in close contact with anyone in the club.
“The email received by Fit4Less members regarding a recent COVID-19 case at our Sault Ste. Marie Pim Street location was sent out of an abundance of caution. The affected associate followed all appropriate precautions while in the Club – including practicing proper physical distancing and abiding by our masking policy for associates – and they indicated they were not in close contact with anyone while in the club,” said Fit4Less Chief Operating Officer Kathy MacKinnon via email. “Algoma Public Health has advised that only a limited group of individuals were identified to have exposure risk. If a member has not been directly contacted by Algoma Public Health by email or phone, they are not considered a close contact and no further action is required."
"As for all confirmed cases of COVID-19, Algoma Public Health conducts a thorough contact tracing investigation. APH has already identified and directly notified close contacts related to Fit4Less with public health instructions.”
Email wasn't sent to 'actual contacts' identified by health unit: Algoma Public Health
Liisa Daoust, a public health nurse in infectious diseases at Algoma Public Health, told SooToday Saturday that the health unit wasn't consulted on the email notifications sent out by the fitness club to its members.
“We work based on the client’s infectious period, and we contacted all of the clients that needed to be reached out [to] that were present during an infected exposure time,” said Daoust. “The gym itself put out a letter, without consulting with public health and sent it to multiple people causing, of course, lots of nervous people. But only a very small group of people who attended the gym on the date in question needed to be reached out to.”
When the gym sent out its letter, Daoust says, it did not send the letter to the group that APH had identified as being "actual contacts."
“They just took the person’s work schedule and sent it out, but they were not considered to be infectious for the majority of that schedule, which is why we did not include all of those people,” she said.
The health unit says it will make a site of exposure public knowledge only if it's unable to identify who may have been a high-risk contact.
“We work very hard building the community trust, so we do very in-depth contact investigation - we ask a lot of questions of our cases, we give them time to think about where they’ve been, we use very specific dates and timelines based on when they tested, based on when their symptoms started,” said Daoust. “That tells us how far to go back, and how to outreach to the high-risk and low-risk contacts.”
Anyone thinking they are a potential contact is encouraged to call Algoma Public Health. An overview of the health unit's case contact management process can be found on the APH website.