An Ottawa woman was outraged when she spotted social media posts from a neighbour who was supposed to be self-isolating but was out and about in the community. "I'm about to lose it on her!" she posted on Facebook.

The woman called the police to report her neighbour. The neighbour and other "ignorant assh**** who can't follow the rules are killing people," she posted.

Others chimed in on Facebook, harshly criticizing those who violate rules that public health authorities have put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"If anyone I love dies because of idiots like that..." posted one person. "Shame on them and they get what they deserve," said another. Call the police, suggested others. Publicly shame them. Put them in jail. Notify the media.

As fear over COVID-19 intensifies, so does the anger at those who endanger others by failing to self-isolate or physically distance.

Are people who call out their neighbours virus vigilantes or community heroes in a pandemic? Is it our responsibility to police others? And who do you call to report violators?

The issues are further complicated by confusion over the rules, which are changing quickly as efforts to curb the spread of the disease intensify.

Last week, for instance, when those Facebook comments were posted, public health authorities said that travellers who were self-isolating for 14 days after returning from other countries could go outside for exercise if they had no symptoms. They just had to keep their distance from others.

Then on March 25 Canada imposed emergency orders under the Quarantine Act. Returning travellers who don't self-isolate can now face jail or fines.

The guidelines for them changed, too. Now Health Canada says returning travellers who don't have symptoms should go no further than their backyard or balcony during self-isolation.

Even public health officials are scrambling to keep up with the new messaging. Until Tuesday night, Health Canada had conflicting advice posted on the novel coronavirus website because the old guidance for self-isolators without symptoms — that it was fine to go outside for a run, a bike ride or to walk the dog — had not been removed when the new rules were adopted.

"Please know — in a pandemic things change quickly," said Ottawa Public Health in a tweet to publicize the change in that rule. "We understand that this is frustrating, and we apologize for any stress it has caused."

The rules on physical distancing have also been tightened. People are supposed to keep two metres away from others and not gather in groups. The number of people allowed in a group has been reduced to five, excluding families. Unless they are self-isolating or sick people can still go outside for a walk or a run.

But last week, the city of Ottawa closed its parks, including play structures, ball diamonds, basketball hoops and other amenities within them. People can now only walk through parks.

However, warning signs have not gone up in all of the parks yet.

On Friday night, there was an incident between a teenager shooting hoops by himself in a city park and Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee Donna Blackburn. The teen thought he was following the social distancing rules, said his dad, who complained to the school board after Blackburn confronted his son.

Others wrestle with whether and how to confront people who appear to be breaking the rules.

It depends a lot on the circumstances, of course.

"Talking to people is always an option," said Ottawa Police Const. Martin Dompierre. "If you don't know the person you are talking to, 26 years of policing shows me that not everybody reacts the same way to an order or a confrontation so I'm not sure it's something we can suggest."

Ottawa police and bylaw officers are concentrating on educating the public about the rules and the reason they are needed, he said. "If they don't respect the guidelines, yes, enforcement is possible, but that's the last possible recourse."

Residents can call city bylaw - 311 - with concerns about violations of physical distancing our lives, our friendships, our neighbourhood, will never be the samerules, large gatherings, people playing on park structures, or businesses opened illegally, he said.
our lives, our friendships, our neighbourhood, will never be the same
Violations of self-isolation rules under the Quarantine Act can be reported to police.

And what about people who take photographs of violators — kids climbing on play structures at the park, for instance — and post them on social media? "That's not something the Ottawa police suggest people do, definitely not," said Dompierre.

While social media is being used to shame those breaking the rules, there is sometimes another side to the story.

Another Ottawa woman said she received threatening messages on social media from her neighbours who saw her family out on walks. Her family travelled outside Canada for spring break, and is now in self-isolation. The woman said she even showed people the guidelines she was following that initially allowed going out for a walk, but it made no difference. Her neighbours threatened to call the police and bylaw officers, she said. They told her she was being selfish and putting their lives at risk. Fear of the virus has "made normally sane people nuts," the woman said.

"The (messages) that upset us the most were from good friends and neighbours we have known for years. The fear is palpable...

"For me and my spouse, these threats have changed us. We won't move, but someone you felt you could pop over for a coffee with, barbeque with, exercise with, before, has definitely changed.

"We're stressed. Our time in self-isolation is almost up, but our lives, our friendships, our neighbourhood, will never be the same, at least to us."

She didn't want her name used for fear her children will be harassed.