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Region orders closure of Old Order Mennonite churches and schools

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Old Order Mennonite churches and schools are to be closed by Wednesday as Waterloo Region moved to counter the rising number of COVID-19 cases among those groups.

The announcement made Monday by medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang applies to members of the Old Order, Markham, Old Colony, and David Martin Mennonite communities in Waterloo Region.

The order is being issued to enable enforcement actions, when appropriate, to slow the spread of COVID-19 in these communities. In addition to requiring that individuals themselves comply with public health requirements, this order prohibits social gatherings in or on a private residence with people outside of a person’s immediate household, the public health department said in a release Monday afternoon.

The order under section 22 of the province’s Health Protection and Promotion Act comes into effect immediately.

Discussions are occurring with community leaders to enable an orderly closure of schools and church settings – except to allow for things such as funerals with a small number of people in attendance –  in these communities by Wednesday. 

“We have benefited from the support of community leaders and many individual members of these Mennonite communities. Unfortunately, we have encountered insufficient cooperation among a number of individuals with public health requirements, including the requirements to self-isolate, not attend work when sick, and identify high-risk contacts for public health,” Wang in the release. “As a result, orders are being issued as the risk to the community as a whole, as well as to other people with whom community members interact, has become too high.”

A number of cases have been reported among that community.

Under the order, those who do not comply can be given a $750 ticket or a Part III summons with fines reaching up to $5,000 per day.

The region’s decision follows a similar move some two weeks earlier by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, which forced the closure of Old Order Mennonite churches and schools, with officials noting that community’s uptake of public health measures had been low.

“I do not take the issuing of section 22 orders lightly, but COVID-19 poses a serious health risk to the Old Order Mennonite Community and to all of us in the region. Sometimes we need to make difficult decisions to prevent the unchecked spread of this virus,” Dr. Nicola Mercer, WDG medical officer of health, said in a release.

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