Yorkdale hit with more COVID infections as people call for malls to be shut down
If restaurants and gyms are considered too high-risk to stay open right now, even with physical distancing protocols in place, how are massive shopping centres still allowed to run at full tilt?
It's something residents of Toronto, Peel and Ottawa have been wondering in recent days as they get used to living under a modified version of the provincial government's Stage 2 reopening plans.
Enforceable as of 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, new restrictions for the three aforementioned COVID-19 "hot zones" will remain in place for a minimum of 28 days.
They include the complete closures of gyms, casinos, cinemas, many tourist attractions, and the indoor dining areas of bars, restaurants and clubs.
Shopping malls remain open under the new regulations, with the exception of "food court areas," which have been ordered to close.
50 mans deep already @ Yorkdale and square one for the ovo bape like there’s no corona virus 🦠 smh— hernandezzzzz (@niickhernandez) October 10, 2020
Premier Doug Ford has yet to reveal the exact criteria used by his COVID-19 command table when recommending sweeping business closures like this, but regional public health officials have pointed to ongoing mass exposures at both restaurants and gyms.
Reports of infections among bar and restaurant employees have been disconcertingly frequent over the past few months, for sure, but so too have those involving retail workers at malls.
Canada's third-largest (and highest-grossing) mall — Yorkdale Shopping Centre — has been particularly hard hit since reopening in late June after four months of COVID closures.
It's hard to say exactly how many cases of the virus have been linked to workers at Yorkdale this year, as mall management doesn't publicize these figures.
Leaked emails from tenants, however, suggest that case confirmations among store employees have been on the upswing since Toronto entered Stage 3 in late July.
I have heard of employers forcing employees to go over the limit of the amount of people they allow in the store just to make money and put their workers in danger! If you work in the service industry its sad to see how our government sees us as easily dispensable!— Yvette M (@Yvette2697) October 9, 2020
It's well-known that infections have been detected at Foot Locker, MAC Cosmetics and the (currently-closed) JOEY restaurant in Yorkdale, but a tipster who wishes to remain anonymous tells blogTO that many more within the popular mall have gone unreported.
Letters from Yorkdale management to mall tenants shared by the tipster reveal that infections have also recently been confirmed in employees at Godiva Chocolates, The Source and Nordstrom, among other stores.
The worker also reported "extreme overcrowding on weekends," no directional traffic rules and a lack of mask enforcement throughout the shopping centre.
"Mall security often not even wearing masks while crowded in the security office," they wrote. "Unmasked people crowded on bench seating located throughout the mall despite signage located on the benches."
Images shared by social media users in recent weeks back up these claims, and with multiple record-breaking case spikes last week, some are wondering how the mall remains open — especially now that gyms and indoor restaurants have been forced to close.
Question: if gyms & dining are closed, why aren’t malls? I live walkable you a mall (haven’t gone in, the library is next door) & it looks busy enough. Yorkdale is def parking lot busy. Why? I know business business business. Other explanation?— Hilary Edelstein (@hledelstein) October 14, 2020
According to Yorkdale Shopping Centre's website, all "participating stores and restaurants" are open "for in-store shopping" with the exception of the following stores, which are listed as temporarily closed:
"Please explain why the malls are still open? There is no social distancing in the hallways and half the people don't wear a mask properly," asked one Ontario resident of Health Minister Christine Elliott on Twitter over the weekend.
"There have also been numerous outbreaks at stores in Yorkdale, Eaton Centre and Sherway!"
"You should see the parking lot at Yorkdale Mall, it has been packed," tweeted another to Premier Ford. "The number of infections is growing. Do something."
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