'Never seen it that busy before': St. Jacobs Farmers' Market working with health officials on crowd concerns
Published Tuesday, September 29, 2020 5:51PM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, September 29, 2020 6:54PM EDT
KITCHENER -- It was a busy Saturday at St. Jacobs Farmers' Market on Saturday, with hundreds of people walking through the outdoor market and cars lining up to get inside.
While many people had masks on, some said physical distancing wasn't possible.
"It was busy to say the least," shopper Dana Ramanauskas said. "I wasn't expecting the line-ups to be as long as they were."
There were 1,300 people allowed into the outdoor market at one time on Saturday, which is down from 1,500 the weekend before. Staff with the market said they're working with public health and will look at their occupancy numbers again if need be to ensure everyone's safety.
"We're also looking at potential decreasing it again should we need to do that," said Amanda Runstedler, assistant manager of the market.
Private outdoor gatherings are capped at 25 people in Ontario, but the restrictions don't apply to staffed businesses and facilities.
The crowds had some people concentred.
"Even standing in the line to get into the building or into the outside of St. Jacobs was wrapped so far around the market itself," Ramanauskas said. "I've just never seen it that busy before."
Experts said that while the risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors is minimal, large crowds are problematic.
"I don't think we need to be overly alarmed by this," infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said. "But, it is also a reminder that there's no such thing as a zero-risk situation when it comes to COVID-19. Crowds are a problem, even outdoors, so there should be some degree of concern here, no doubt."
"There are some areas we've heard some concerns about where crowding is more likely," Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said at the region's weekly COVID-19 briefing. "We are working with them on those areas in particular."
Market staff said some lines at produce vendors are in those areas.
"A lot of our vendors are finished for the season or they're not selling any of their items, so that kind of allows us to expand people more," Runstedler said.
There are safety measures in place like sanitizing stations and signs reminding people to maintain physical distance. However, Ramanauskas said she's concerned about the number of people gathering in one place.
"I just feel it's very challenging to try to contain the crowds," she said.
Market staff are encouraging customers to practice physical distancing as much as possible.
Public health officials said the outdoor market occupancy may seem like a large number, but it's allowed because the market has so much space.