A Pelham councillor and Sobeys franchisee at the centre of a controversy around COVID-19 has issued a public apology, acknowledging some of his decisions were “imperfect.”
Ron Kore, who owns the Sobeys in Fonthill, Ont., was temporarily removed as the store’s operator on April 24 while the grocery chain carried out an internal investigation into concerns he had come to work while sick.
“The past few weeks have been difficult and eye opening,” stated Kore in an letter shared by Sobeys Tuesday.
“I want to apologize for any unintended consequences my actions caused early on in this pandemic and the resulting stress and hurt it may have caused the community.”
In an email to CBC, a Sobeys spokesperson said the company determined the store met public health protocols and all cleaning and sanitization standards before and during its internal investigation.
Kore “regrets coming to work while experiencing flu-like symptoms,” wrote Natasha Compton, noting no employees have tested positive for the virus.
Niagara Region Public Health confirmed it has “not identified a cluster of cases” linked to the store.
Kore returned to work Tuesday, according to his apology.
“Over these past few weeks I have gained some difficult but necessary lessons that I will carry with me,” he wrote. “I have learned from this experience and I am committed to this community more than ever. I will work hard to gain back your confidence and trust.”
Questions were raised about Kore after a report he continued to work despite respiratory symptoms, as first revealed by The Voice of Pelham newspaper.
Kore previously said he learned on April 13 he had been in contact with someone with COVID-19, was tested on the 17th and found out he had it three days later.
Sobeys said it was made aware he had tested positive that same day, April 20.
Archived video of a March 23 town council meeting also shows Kore sniffling and wiping his nose.
A few weeks later another councillor, Mike Ciolfi who was sitting just feet from his ailing colleague at the meeting, died suddenly after testing positive for COVID-19. His cause of death has not been disclosed.
While it can’t be 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 situation shook the community causing both grief and anger.
Niagara police briefly announced a “COVID related” investigation, but announced they’d determined a “criminal inquiry is not an appropriate course of action” the next day.
Ontario’s Ministry of Labour also launched an investigation at the Sobeys location despite not receiving a complaint about COVID-19 at the store.
A ministry spokesperson said an inspector arrived on April 24 and reviewed enhanced screening and cleaning procedures, but said no orders were were issued and the investigation was completed.
Sobeys took the investigation “very seriously,” said Compton, adding Kore was “supportive throughout the process.”
“He made reasonable inquiries with health care and public health officials who advised him he was safe to come to work,” she wrote.
“Nevertheless, he acknowledges the poor optics of the situation, there was no ill intent and is very sorry for the misstep.”
Kore previously issued a statement saying he would never put others at risk and describing the town’s handling of his diagnosis as “reckless and irresponsible.”
He stated he’d followed the province’s self-assessment tool which showed he didn’t “qualify” for a test.
That’s despite the fact, 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.
Kore also said he pushed for a COVID-19 test even after being told by a public health nurse it wasn’t necessary. He pointed to health officials, saying they’d told him he did have the virus, but was no longer infectious so he could return to regular life.
However, the councillor ultimately decided to remain in self-isolation for 14 days out of an “abundance of caution.”
In his apology Tuesday, Kore reiterated some of those arguments, adding the first few days of the pandemic pushed him into “uncharted territory” as a business owner and that he wanted to be “in the trenches” with his team.
“I thought I was doing the right thing and taking the precautions necessary based on my interpretation of the information I had and the advice I was getting,” he wrote.
“However, I now realize that some of my decisions, and the optics around them, were imperfect and I am very sorry for this.”