A Pelham, Ont., councillor and Sobeys store owner at the centre of a controversy around COVID-19 says he would never do anything to endanger the health of others and described the town’s handling of his diagnosis as “reckless and irresponsible.”
Coun. Ron Kore broke his silence in a statement Sunday following a week of rising anxiety in the Niagara town over the possibility of community exposure after he tested positive for COVID-19.
“I would never take a risk with my health, the health of my wife, employees or colleagues at Town Hall,” he wrote in the statement.
Concern about Kore’s health and the possibility community members were exposed to COVID-19 began after he attended a March 23 council meeting. Video of the meeting shows the councillor sniffling and wiping his nose, which prompted staff to raise worries about the virus, according to the town’s mayor.
Then, on April 13, Coun. Mike Ciolfi, who was also at that meeting and sat about eight feet away from Kore, died suddenly after testing positive for COVID-19. The cause of death has not been publicly disclosed but was reported by the Voice of Pelham newspaper.
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While it’s not known who got what from whom, whether the virus was even spread at the meeting, or if Kore simply had a cold at that time, the case has shaken the community.
In his statement, the councillor said he went to the meeting after using the province’s online self-assessment tool, which he said shows he didn’t “qualify” for a test.
However, archived versions of the province’s webpage show runny nose was listed as a symptom of COVID-19 on March 18 and advises anyone feeling unwell to stay home.
Niagara Region Public Health also recognized a runny nose as a symptom of the virus as far back as January, according to an email Dr. Mustafa Hirji, acting medical officer of health, sent to CBC.
Statements from the health unit dating back to at least March 13, when Niagara confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus, also state one of the best ways to stop the spread of respiratory viruses is to stay home if you’re sick.
Kore also owns a Sobeys franchise. The store was closed for a deep cleaning Thursday. Officials with public health, Sobeys and Ontario’s Ministry of Labour are investigating.
Premier compares symptoms to ‘loaded gun’
During a media update Saturday, Premier Doug Ford said his heart goes out to the Ciolfi family.
“It’s terrible what happened,” he said. “People make mistakes but folks, please, we’ve come so far.”
Speaking generally, Ford said those with symptoms need to be responsible and stay home.
“Call your public health, and if you really want to shame them, call the local media,” the premier said. “It’s just being irresponsible. If you have symptoms, it’s like walking around with a loaded gun in your hand.”
Councillor says he was told he was ‘no longer infectious’
In his statement, Kore offers a timeline of events from the weeks in question, starting with the council meeting, where he maintains he followed physical distancing.
The councillor says a public health nurse told him on April 13 that he had come into contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.
The councillor said he requested a test of his own at the time, but said the nurse told him it wasn’t necessary.
That’s because given Kore’s symptoms, the fact he’d been in contact with a confirmed case and the timeline involved, Kore was already considered a case and steps including contact tracing would begin even without testing, Hirji said in his statement.
The doctor would not confirm whether or not the person with COVID-19 that Kore had contact with was Ciolfi, citing privacy.
Regardless, Kore says he approached his doctor and arranged for a test to take place on April 17, adding the test was the only time he left self-isolation since the 13th.
Confirmation he had tested positive came back on April 20, according to Kore.
“However, that day I was informed by a nurse at Niagara Region Public Health … that I was no longer infectious and she had: ‘verified with our medical officer of health at Niagara Region Public Health Dr. Hirji that you can resume your normal activities of work and do not need to self-isolate,'” he said in the statement.
The advice Kore says he was given appears to contradict the self-isolation directions on the health unit’s website, which call for anyone with a lab-confirmed case of the virus to isolate for a minimum of 14 days to stop the spread and notes that for some that period may be much longer.
Asked why Kore wasn’t direct to self-isolate, Hirji said the science behind COVID-19 indicates the virus is only contagious for seven or eight days after symptoms begin to show.
“Mr. Kore was advised that his 14-day period of isolation had already ended and that he was no longer infectious,” said the doctor. “Therefore he was informed that he did not need to isolate further.”
In his statement Kore went on to encourage Niagara Region Public Health to release his correspondence with them, saying he’s willing to waive his right to privacy in order to “set the record straight.”
However, Hirji said nearly all of the communication that took place happened by phone and that transcripts and recordings weren’t created.
The councillor said despite what health officials told him he will remain in quarantine for 14 days following his positive test out of an “abundance of caution.”