Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health, said in his weekly briefing today that he will be sending a letter to municipalities recommending that they disallow residents from the province’s red (control) and grey (lockdown) zones from using municipal recreational facilities. Toronto and Peel health regions are in lockdown, while Durham Region, the City of Hamilton, Halton Region, the Region of Waterloo, and York Region public health units are in the red zone.
“I am advising strongly that people from those areas only come here for essential purposes and not come here in order to access recreational facilities that are provided by municipalities or other services or shopping. I am recommending that strongly in order to help reduce risk of transmission,” said Dr. Gardner. “In my letter to the municipalities, I am advising that they disallow people from the red or grey zones from using the recreational facilities of those municipalities.” Municipalities will have to decide individually whether or not to take his advice.
The letter to municipalities was prompted in part by movement of people into the region.
Although he doesn’t have specific data on how many people are travelling into Simcoe Muskoka from areas of higher transmission, Dr. Gardner said that he is aware of examples of people who have “gone out of their way to shop up here because we are more open than they are there and they might even be planning on doing so on an ongoing basis” as well as people renting ice time to play hockey “as far north as Muskoka” because they can’t rent ice surfaces in their own areas.
Dr. Gardner is also sending a letter of instruction to businesses in the region this week to reiterate what is required of them under provincial regulations and to help address workplace transmission of the coronavirus. Although Muskoka has been spared large outbreaks so far, there have been a number of workplace outbreaks in Simcoe County.
“It carries legislative weight, it is enforceable,” said Dr. Gardner of his letter to businesses. He noted, however, that enforcement remains difficult and that they depend on people’s goodwill to stem transmission. “We don’t have the resources to enforce everywhere…we really do depend on everybody understanding that we are in this together. That we flattened the curve together and everybody needs to be part of the solution.”
The health unit will take calls of concern and will follow up with businesses within their mandate, such as food establishments, or confer with municipal bylaw or police if it is appropriate for those services to respond. To date the health unit has issued orders for non-compliance but has not gone as far as levying fines, said Dr. Gardner.
The letter also recommends that businesses enable remote work for their employees wherever possible, and that they appoint a compliance officer who would systematically review the work environment to ensure they are following guidelines.
Although the letter doesn’t advise businesses to turn away residents of red and grey zones, Dr. Gardner said that he would not only support those that choose to do so, he would go as far as recommending that they do. He said he has also raised the issue of enforcement of non-essential travel restrictions with the province, but that “it would be difficult to do” and he didn’t expect they would take that step.
Simcoe Muskoka remains in the orange (restrict) zone in the province’s COVID-19 response framework, largely due to a higher number of cases in South Simcoe.
Dr. Gardner acknowledged that there is a large difference in the rate of disease in South Simcoe compared to Muskoka. “I can see why people in Muskoka might not want to be put in the same category. On the other hand, I am aware that there is movement of people from the south, including in the GTA, to Muskoka and Simcoe and accessing services and there is potential for exposure. So this would give an added level of protection against a surge starting to affect Muskoka in the same way that it is affecting South Simcoe.”
Today he also issued a statement to residents of Simcoe Muskoka, asking them to step up their efforts to stop transmission of the virus.
Dr. Gardner has called on the province to more strongly communicate to the public the advice they’ve put in their framework and “consider what else they can do to strengthen compliance with it.”
Read Dr. Gardner’s letter to municipalities here.
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