Here we are in mid-August. It has been a very odd summer but I hope you have managed to get out and enjoy everything that Parry Sound-Muskoka has to offer and support some of our local businesses.
Working together we have controlled the spread of COVID-19 and even as businesses have reopened, the numbers of new cases have continued to stay low.
Despite the lower numbers of cases, COVID-19 continues to present a risk. We are now learning to manage and live with the risk. There have been some cases and there will continue to be cases. That is why it is important to continue to follow the public health advice—wash you hands frequently, maintain physical distancing whenever possible, wear a mask when physical distancing isn’t possible, and stay home if you feel sick.
Learning to live with the coronavirus means getting back to work and school while protecting our most vulnerable citizens.
In our area, getting back to work includes inviting tourists, if only domestic tourists, back to our communities. We live in a beautiful area that attracts visitors and without those visitors many of our residents don’t have jobs. I know it is scary to have people visiting the area and the fact that there were people who tested positive after having been in the area has made people more nervous.
Happily there have been no cases identified as a result of those visitors. That shows that the public health measures and the steps taken by the businesses have successfully protected the workers and others from infection, shows we are learning how to live safely with this virus. I want to recognize the businesses—Deerhurst Resort and 3 Guys and a Stove—for their efforts to protect their staff and our community.
Reopening schools is the next step in living with the virus. At the end of July the province released guidelines for reopening schools and the school boards are releasing their plans.
Our guidelines prioritize the health and safety of students and staff and provide school boards with additional resources and flexibility. This plan was developed in consultation with the chief medical officer of health, the COVID-19 Command Table and paediatric experts.
The health and safety of students, educators and their families obviously must come first, but there’s no question that children and teens need social interaction with their peers and with their teachers.
In order to provide that interaction, elementary schools (kindergarten to grade 8) will reopen province wide, with in-class instruction five days a week. Secondary schools with lower risk, like those in our riding, will reopen five days a week. Both the Trillium Lakelands District School Board and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board plans, in order to keep high school students in cohorts with the same group all day, have planned for courses to be concentrated and students to take fewer courses at a time. Students from grade 4-12 and school staff will be required to wear masks in the schools and on buses.
The government is providing more than $300 million in targeted, immediate investments, including funding for masks and other PPE, funding for additional custodians, funding to clean school buses, additional funding for special needs students and for student mental health services, and $50 million to hire public health nurses to work with local schools. Additionally, the province announced funding to upgrade ventilation systems and access to reserves to pay additional staff.
Those parents who are not comfortable sending their children to school will continue to have the option to enroll their children in remote delivery.
We also need to learn how to better protect our most vulnerable from the virus—seniors living in long-term care. We were very lucky here in Parry Sound-Muskoka. We have had no reported cases of COVID-19 among long-term care residents. That is a testament to the great work by the staff at all our long-term care homes.
Unfortunately across Ontario about 20 per cent of long-term care facilities did have outbreaks and we lost almost 1,800 residents of long-term care homes to COVID-19.
As promised our government announced an independent commission to look into what went wrong and how to prevent a similar situation in the future. The commissioners who will study this issue and report back to the government are associate chief justice Frank N. Marrocco who will chair the commission, former deputy minister in the Ontario public service Angela Coke, and former president of the Ottawa Hospital Dr. Jack Kitts.
The commission will have similar powers to a public inquiry including the ability to summons people to give evidence and produce documents in support of the investigation and has been asked to report back in 10 months. These steps and more are all designed to help us live with the virus. The public health measures will continue to be important until we have a vaccine but we cannot put everything else on hold until then. We need to find ways to go about daily life in the safest way possible.
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.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!