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Unmasked people flood Kingston dance floor violating COVID-19 protocols

Dozens of people filled the dance floor at The Spot nightclub in downtown Kingston the night of Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in violation of at least one COVID-19 government mandate, and possibly a second.

The incident, which prompted a source who preferred to remain anonymous to record the happenings, was in clear violation of the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA), which states that “people must be masked while dancing, with limited exception,” according to Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health.

At the same time, the number of people in the video, which Kingstonist has verified the validity of, appear to be in contravention of the capacity limitations in effect at that time under the ROA, as the province endures the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the anonymous source, there were at least 100 people in The Spot on the night of Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. According to another source, who has inside knowledge of the operations at The Spot and has also asked to remain anonymous, the number of people in The Spot that night was also in violation of the ROA based on the capacity of the business, which is 175 people without COVID-19 restrictions.

“The Ontario ROA states that, for the indoor space of food or drink establishments with dancing, total number of members of the public permitted is limited to the number that can maintain a physical distance of at least two meters from every other person in the establishment AND can not exceed 25 per cent capacity, or 250 [people] (whichever is less),” at the alleged time of the gathering, KFL&A Public Health relayed.

With a general capacity of 175 people, 25 per cent capacity would be no more than 44 people. Furthermore, the video footage taken on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, shows people dancing shoulder to shoulder, and doing so without the necessary space for two metres of physical distancing.

When contacted on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, KFL&A Public Health indicated they had not received a complaint about the incident or business in question.

“KFL&A Public Health works closely with regional enforcement agencies, including City of Kingston Bylaw, Kingston Police, OPP, AGCO and MLTSD on the topic of ROA compliance in businesses and organizations. When KFL&A Public Health is made aware of a business or organization not following the requirements under the ROA, we will investigate the details of the incident, provide education about the requirements and work with the owner or operators to gain voluntary compliance,” Public Health said.

“If voluntary compliance can not be achieved, KFL&A Public Health will request the support of one of our partner enforcement agencies.”

KFL&A Public Health confirmed that no action would be taken unless or until a formal complaint was filed.

“We do require a complaint to be submitted through our online form. We need someone to issue a complaint with information and details related to the infraction,” the local Public Health Unit said.

On Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, Kingstonist confirmed with anonymous sources that a formal complaint had been submitted.

“I felt it was important for other people to know this is happening, especially with the fourth wave of the pandemic occurring,” the source said of submitting the video footage to Kingstonist and filing the complaint with Public Health.

“I am concerned about the safety of others.”

For his part, Jordan West, Co-owner of The Spot, said that the events over the past weekend were both a “soft launch opening” and “not open to the public, but reserved for invite only guests.”

“All guests and staff of The Spot were verified as fully vaccinated using their proof of vaccination. Guests were encouraged to have masks on, and be actively eating or drinking if their masks were removed. Like any other establishment in Kingston, it has been very difficult for staff and owners to regulate and ‘fun police’ guests during the evening hours. Some extra thinking has been put into place after a difficult weekend,” he said, referring to the weekend of Friday, Sept. 24 and Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

“We are open this [coming] weekend and will be using a colour coded wristbands system, which will enable [different colour groups] to dance at the time when [their] colour is visible on the floor. Otherwise, customers remain at their seats awaiting a server or attend the bar between barriers.”

West went on to say that, as with many businesses, it’s been a struggle to keep up with the ever-changing regulations, however, The Spot does have “a COVID-19 safety plan in place that is visible for all customers on site, that has been templated by the Ontario government.” He also pointed to a few of the proactive ways The Spot is letting customers know they must have proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter.

The signage out front of The Spot in downtown Kingston. Photo submitted by Jordan West.

“Our sign displays ‘Are you ready, Get your vaccine’ to encourage everyone to adhere and get the vaccine before attempting to enter The Spot. I believe I am one of the only businesses in Kingston to make a visual stand towards that direction,” West expressed, also noting the different rules from places with dance floors and the requirement of “vaccine passports” led to some difficulties last weekend, however, those have now been sorted out.

The signage on the doors of The Spot explaining all COVID-19 protocols in place, include a proof of vaccination requirement. Photo submitted by Jordan West.

West also noted that a number of customers from the weekend in question had been misinformed and “had an expectation that masks were not required because of the [vaccine] passport,” which resulted in issues for staff attempting to get customers to adhere to the masking requirement, apart from “while eating or drinking.” West said he feels the new colour-coding entry and restriction of movements now in place for The Spot’s upcoming grand re-opening will help stave off those issues.

West also explained that The Spot uses SquareUp, which allows customers to use contactless payment, and discourages the use of cash. On the weekend of September 25, 2021, 95 per cent of customers at The Spot used this option, he said.

Additionally, West said that all guests who entered The Spot over the last weekend were required to show proof of vaccination, and that, while business owners cannot require or disclose proof of vaccination from employees, all staff were screened for COVID-19 prior to each shift during the “soft opening,” which will be the standard procedure at the bar moving forward.

“There is no discouragement or disassociation with the guidelines and protocols that are required. Having been shut down for 18 months it’s challenging to get a business reopened, and the students certainly pose a difficult scenario for any bar owner,” he said.

Nevertheless, according to KFL&A Public Health Inspector Sarah van Dijk “the ROA requirements would apply in this situation as they are [using] the nightclub for their private party.” “A private party would only apply to someone’s personal residence, and even then, the indoor gathering limits of 25 [individuals] indoors would apply,” van Dijk explained.

According to the anonymous sources, the “private party” West referred to involved people lined up at the door to get in, attendees purchasing drinks, and a Facebook post encouraging people to get their names added to the list for the event.

The questionable events come almost exactly one year after The Spot faced similar backlash regarding adherence to COVID-19 regulations. Kingston Police found The Spot to be in compliance with COVID-19 regulations shortly after those events last year.

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