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'Yelling and screaming': York Region public health faces residents' backlash over vaccines and COVID-19 restrictions
March 29, 2021
Kim Zarzour

York Region residents are being asked to "be kind" after an alarming increase in abuse directed at the region's public health staff.

York Region chair Wayne Emmerson said regional representatives are being subject to "yelling and screaming" phone calls.

"It’s very unfortunate, the abuse that we’re taking on this," he said,

The region has been inundated with emails and calls and it’s just not feasible to respond to them all, he said.

Some residents truly are in unique situations and need the region’s support and guidance; they will be the focus, he said, but other emails, "based on the tone and words," will not be responded to at all.

"It's been really upsetting to see a rise in disrespectful and inappropriate behaviour toward our staff, who are working literally day and night to do everything they can to support people," associate medical officer of health Dr. Fareen Karachiwalla said.

Dr. Karim Kurji, the region's medical officer of health, said there has been an increase in abuse and resistance directed toward investigators and residents hanging up on local public health staff calling to share information about possible exposure to COVID-19.

Faced with increasing difficulty getting co-operation from residents who were diagnosed with the virus, who have symptoms or close contacts, or are expected to be self-isolating, Kurji issued a Section 22 order earlier this month to require residents to isolate without delay and to co-operate fully with public health -- or face fines of $5,000 to $25,000 per day.

“We feel badly, but we’re doing everything we can," Emmerson said at the Mar. 25 regional council meeting. "We’re throwing every vaccine possible out to those residents --. We’re leading everyone by getting the vaccines out sooner.”

York Region was one of the first to begin vaccinations for the over-80 age group, getting a two-week head start on the province by making use of existing online booking systems and, as a result, has now given first doses to almost 80 per cent of residents aged 80 or more, 44 per cent of those aged 75 to79, and almost 10 per cent of those 70 to 74, as well as most eligible health-care workers who live or work in York Region.

Kurji said the region has been moving aggressively through the age groups ahead of the provincial start dates.

Rather than wait for a proportion of individuals in an age bracket to be immunized, the region watches for the booking rates to decrease and then moves to the next group.

“If we don’t do that, our capacities at the clinics will go unutilized,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance between ensuring we have adequate vaccines and ensuring we are not wasting.”

Using the York Region booking system -- rather than the province’s -- makes it possible to be “speedy and nimble,” he added.

It may be less convenient for residents who have to negotiate several booking systems through the region’s website, but the advantage of speed outweighs the disadvantages, enabling the region to move quickly through the province’s prioritization schedule, he said.

“The general plan is to keep moving very rapidly through the five-year age groups -- every five to seven days, so we would hope that we would be able to go to the 65-plus age group as of Mar. 30 at the latest.

“In the so-called war between the vaccines and variants, most experts think that the variants will win, but we believe we can do otherwise.”