By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—As of June 12, 2020 at 12:01 a.m. about half of Ontario’s population is moving into Stage 2 of the reopening plan. Haldimand and Norfolk, however, are among 10 municipalities that were not given the go-ahead to proceed.
A Provincial news release stated the decision was “based on trends of key public health indicators such as lower rates of transmission, increased capacity in hospitals, and progress made in testing.” Services that are allowed to open in the approved regions include:
- Outdoor dining areas
- Select personal services, i.e. tattoo parlours, hair dressers, and salons
- Malls under existing restrictions, such as take out or outdoor dining only
- Tour and guide services
- Water recreational facilities and beaches
- Additional Ontario Parks campgrounds and all private campgrounds
- Outdoor-only recreational facilities
- Drive-in and drive-through venues for theatres, concerts, etc.
- Film and television production
- Weddings and funerals up to 10 people
Regardless of Stage 2 approval, the entire Province is now allowed to gather in groups up to 10.
Additionally, all places of worship are now allowed to operate at up to 30% capacity, which provides empty space to keep physical distancing.
The Province also announced that on June 12 all childcare centres can reopen. More details were expected to be released on summer camps, post-secondary education pilots to help people graduate, training centres, and public transit, but were not available as of press time.
“At the beginning of each week, the government will provide an update on the ongoing assessment of these regions (not approved to proceed yet), and whether they are ready to move into Stage 2 at the end of the week,” said the June 8 release. “Everyone, regardless of where they live in the province, must continue to follow public health advice, including to practise physical distancing, wear a face covering if physical distancing is a challenge, wash hands frequently and thoroughly, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.”
Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt and Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp showed their disapproval of the Province’s decision by getting haircuts as a sign of protest outside of Simcoe town hall on June 9.
“Unfortunately, we had to resort to a different peaceful message to get the attention of our local MPP, let alone the Premier of Ontario,” said Hewitt. “We’re trying to fight for that small business owner that deserves to be treated with the same small brush as the province.”
At Premier Doug Ford’s press briefing that day, he criticized the mayors for this protest. Last month Hewitt and Chopp butted heads with Ford over public health measures put in place by the Haldimand Medical Officer of Health that carried big fines for cottage-goers and seasonal residents whose primary residence is outside Haldimand or Norfolk.
“You can’t be telling everyone to stay away and that we will fine you for going to the cottage that you pay taxes for, and then a couple weeks later sit there getting a haircut and go against the protocols. Give me a break, really. I get it, things change, but you can’t have it both ways,” Ford said. “They are the last two mayors in the whole province out of 444 mayors that I would think would be doing this, but this pandemic does strange things to people.”
The two mayors issued the following joint statement after Premier Doug Ford’s June 8 reopening announcement: “Today we learned – along with all of you – that the provincial government will not be allowing Haldimand and Norfolk counties to proceed to the second stage of Ontario’s COVID-19 reopening plan. This decision was made by the provincial government after absolutely no consultation with our Medical Officer of Health, and for reasons that remain unclear. Once again, we must ask our MPP Toby Barrett for clarity on his government’s decision-making process.”
Hewitt released a longer statement on June 9, reiterating the lack of consultation. Hewitt said the announcement “came as a surprise” and that “it truly is sad … your elected officials cannot seem to work together”, expressing frustration “of the buck being passed down from this (provincial) government and his office blatantly misleading people.”
Barrett clarified that the Ministry of Health did contact every regional Medical Officer of Health from Sunday night to Monday morning ahead of the Monday afternoon announcement, but that Dr. Shanker Nesathurai “was very busy with the problem on that farm (Scotlynn Group outbreak) and he didn’t phone them back until 3 p.m.”
When asked about the reasoning behind Haldimand Norfolk being held back, Barrett cited the recent outbreak and total cases, “The Province considered a variety of factors … but the bottom line is the numbers. The numbers don’t lie.”
However, Hewitt believes the region has come a long way and congratulated residents on the success they’ve had: “Despite two separate outbreaks, Anson Place and Scotlynn Farms, our overall numbers here in HN have been as good as anywhere in the Province.”
Hewitt said the idea that the “controlled” farm outbreak could have held back the County “makes no sense … whatsoever” as many farms continue to operate under similar circumstances. He added, “In fact, it was the Ford government that lobbied for the success of the migrant workers program but then left our local pubic health department with the task to manage the large influx of workers. At that time there were not enough testing kits and so not all the workers were tested. Where was our local MPP then? Where was Ford then?”
Hewitt expressed anger with Barrett’s comments in a Norfolk paper on COVID-19 outbreaks locally, in which Barrett said, “Sometimes, you get what you ask for.” Hewitt defended both Anson Place and Scotlynn Group, responding, “I would … ask where and what has his office done to help in either of these situations…. This statement would suggest that you and I and everyone in HN failed, and that (be)cause of these two incidents, everyone should have to suffer.”
Hewitt did not take a stance on whether or not the Province should be open, but said, “My issue is that this regional approach is picking winners and losers and ultimately that is not fair…. (It) was an outright slap in the face.”
“We’re all in this together…. People should be treated fairly across the province,” added Hewitt. “I commend the Ford government for decisions they’ve made, but this phasing approach is a bad decision. I don’t think our small businesses should be bearing the brunt of a couple of outbreaks that are under control.”
Barrett however, agrees with the Province’s approach: “Both mayors down here have been calling for caution for months. The Haldimand mayor wrote an email to the premier asking, for example, that people from the GTA not come to Haldimand. The Norfolk mayor asked Premier Ford to bring in the army to keep people in control in places like Port Dover…. Been two months of concern and warning coming from the mayors down here. This is what they’ve asked for … so I concur with the reasons for Haldimand Norfolk remaining in status quo for now.”
Barrett noted that this situation is temporary as the Province will continue to re-assess.
Hospitals resume surgical procedures
Haldimand War Memorial Hospital announced that beginning June 10 they would gradually resume some surgical procedures, along with other hospitals in the region. The plan includes four phases, beginning with surgical procedures that use the lowest amount of resources.
During the first phase, four patients can be accommodated daily. All patients will be assessed for COVID-19 by phone beforehand and patients will self-isolate prior to surgery. Patients that are being scheduled for procedures will be contacted by their surgeon. Visitor restrictions are still in place and most outpatient clinics remain closed.
Health Unit revokes order prohibiting short-term rentals
The Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit revoked its public health order prohibiting short-term rentals on June 5. Accommodation owners should consult health and safety guidelines related to the tourism and hospitality sector when considering how they can reopen their doors to guests. Operators and guests should continue to practice physical distancing and wash hands frequently to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
June 10, 2020 – Hewitt posts further response
Mayor Ken Hewitt posted a follow up with further explanation of his protest. He stated, “Yesterday I chose to fight for our local economy, for our local businesses and I used the media and a protest platform to gain the attention of the Premier and maybe our local MPP, who continue to say they are consulting with us but frankly are not. That platform was wrong and unfortunately the message that I wanted to send was lost in the translation. My actions, many of you felt was not becoming of the leader that I always have aspired to be. For those of you that were offended I truly apologize and take the responsibility of my choices.”
For the full post, click here.