By Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller
What a year 2020 has been. It has been difficult for individuals, families, business owners, and our healthcare workers.
I want to start by expressing my condolences to the friends and family of the gentleman who passed away from COVID at Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare. I want to point out that this individual was between 35 and 44 years of age – just a reminder that this disease can impact anyone and we all need to remain vigilant.
This news comes just as we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the approval of two vaccines and the delivery of the first doses of vaccine this week. At the same time our businesses are struggling under further restrictions.
As I’m sure everyone knows, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has been categorized as a red zone under the provincial framework because of the number of cases and outbreaks, the capacity of the hospitals, and the ability of the health unit to keep up with contact tracing. Fortunately for us very few of those cases are in Muskoka. Unfortunately for Muskoka the restrictions are imposed based on health unit boundaries so this change has been driven by the high number of cases primarily in Barrie and South Simcoe.
I have heard from many business owners, local mayors, and from our chambers of commerce that they feel this is unfair. Even the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Gardner, has acknowledged this disparity. In this week’s news conference he confirmed that Muskoka’s incident rate is only 15 per 100,000. This compares to a rate for all of Simcoe Muskoka of 52 cases per 100,000 in the past week. He also acknowledged that if Muskoka were separate from Simcoe it would probably be designated yellow or green.
Based on that information I am advocating for having Muskoka considered separately from Simcoe in terms of COVID cases and transmission rates for the purpose of determining public health restrictions. Because I am part of the government, I am doing this by speaking with the Premier and Minister directly rather than through more public means like petitions. That being said, if you agree you can write to Dr. Gardner and copy Ontario Chief Medical Officer Dr. Williams and I. My office will collect your letters and share them with the Premier and Minister of Health.
[Ed.: You can email Dr. Gardner via the SMDHU Health Connection here, Dr. Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org, and MPP Norm Miller at email@example.com.]
The other way we can all help our local businesses and our communities is to, as much as possible, shop local for presents and all holiday purchases this year. We have so many great businesses across Parry Sound-Muskoka that have supported our communities through this pandemic with donations to the hospitals, food banks, and other community groups. They deserve our business every year but this year they need our support more than ever.
In order for our advocacy about public health restrictions to work we all need to ensure we keep the COVID numbers in Muskoka low. To this end I ask that everyone continue to follow public health advice. Avoid large gatherings, maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from other people, wear a mask anytime you are in an indoor public setting or if you can’t maintain that six-foot distance, wash your hands frequently, and avoid close contact with anyone outside your own household.
I know these measures are difficult, particularly at Christmas. Like the song says, “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.”
Unfortunately, the fates are not allowing us to be together this year. My wife and I are sad we won’t be spending Christmas with our family. But we will be together in spirit and thanks to modern technology we will be able to see their faces when they open their presents.
Finally I want to remind you that this season is hard for some people. That will be even more true with the restrictions this year. If you know someone who might be struggling, please reach out. We know that outdoor activities are safer so invite them to go “walking in a winter wonderland”, have a virtual sing-along, surprise them with decorations or a snowman outside their window, or find another safe way to connect.
This year the greatest gifts we can give our loved ones are to protect their health and support their spirits.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy and most importantly a healthy new year.
Photo of MPP Norm Miller is courtesy of his office. Queen’s Park photo “June 2012 Ontario Legislature Toronto” by Priscilla Jordão, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
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