We are now six months into the COVID-19 pandemic with little real light at the end of the tunnel. It is no wonder that some people endure periods of depression—or at least worry and sometimes crankiness—as the restrictions and changes we face drag on. I know that from time to time I have had to check myself from losing patience, getting discouraged, or too quickly dismissing other people’s point of view.
I also realize that it is easy to be scared, uncertain about what lies ahead, especially for parents with young children and for family members who are vulnerable to disease. There is also a natural dichotomy between an instinct to hunker down during a pandemic crisis and recognizing as well the reality that at some point life has to go on.
It becomes even more potentially stressful as we realize that point has arrived. The economy must reopen again. People need to get back to work and kids have to return to school. A new way as to how all of that happens, no doubt, but we cannot remain in the bunker indefinitely.
I have some issues with the manner in which some aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been handled by government. However, I find myself feeling somewhat sorry, at this point in time, for politicians at all three levels of government who have to make the tough decisions when it comes to opening things up. They really are in a damned if they do and damned if they don’t position.
Take the reopening of schools in Ontario, for instance. Most people recognize this has to happen sooner rather than later. Young people need to get out of their pandemic cocoons. Interaction with others is an important part of growing up and so is an uninterrupted journey in their ability to learn. Not all parents agree with public education, but government has an obligation to make those opportunities available.
Yet few people will be completely happy with the Ford Government’s plan to reopen schools in September, even though it was crafted with advice from infectious disease experts and has the approval of Ontario’s medical officer of health. It remains fluid and could change at any time.
Polls indicate that the vast majority of parents in the province want their children back in school and that most will send them. Of course they will worry, and inevitably there will be new incidents of infection not only in schools but in the workplace and the marketplace as well as things open up.
Everyone will have their own ideas about how schools can safely be reopened. Some will be helpful, some simply impractical, and others self- serving. There is no perfect plan. There cannot be with an unpredictable virus. But someone has to come up with one, and that is the responsibility of our provincial government.
I do believe that the Ford Government’s plan for reopening schools is a reasonable one. It cannot be flawless. There will be risk, and the plan must be flexible enough to deal with circumstances as they arise. There is always room for improvement and the Government has acknowledged this. In fact, I too have a couple of concerns that I hope will be addressed.
Especially in an area like ours where students, in most cases, require transportation, I worry about school buses. How can they be safe? I have not seen a plan for this. No matter the safeguards that are put in place in schools, they will not be effective if students are put at risk on their way to class. As inconvenient as it may be, I believe that where at all possible parents should arrange to drive their children to school and school buses, at least in the near future, should be a last resort.
I also fail to understand why high school students in Muskoka must be taught in full-sized classrooms and not in cohorts—designated clusters of students who are taught together and do not mingle with others—as are secondary school students in more urban areas. I understand that risk of infection is greater in larger communities, but I do believe that school boards in areas like Muskoka should have equal flexibility to decide what is best for their secondary school students. I have reached out to our MPP Norm Miller on this but have received no response.
When it comes to reopening and getting back to a new normal, Huntsville Council will also have some decisions to make that may not be universally popular. I have heard from a number of people, mainly parents of young and teenage children, who want to get their kids back into indoor activities, particularly at the Canada Summit Centre.
I did reach out to Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano on this and received an immediate response. Plans are underway for a phased reopening of public facilities and these, at least in part, will be presented to Huntsville Council for approval at their meeting on August 24.
In relation to the Summit Centre, the plan calls for a gradual reopening beginning in September, for now by prior arrangement, with no walk-ins. First to reopen will be the Don Lough Arena with ice, and the swimming pool. Because there is not currently sufficient demand for a second ice surface, the Jack Bionda Arena will be opened for floor activities such as broomball, floor hockey, possibly lacrosse, and so on.
Occupancy will be subject to Provincial regulation, that is 50 people in each separate area. So, to be clear, 50 in each arena, 50 in the pool, and 50 in the Active Living Centre when it is able to open. Mayor Terziano emphasizes that all of this is subject to Council approval and asks for patience and understanding while Town Council and officials manage a safe and healthy return to public community activities.
Safely reopening our schools and our community is not going to be easy and likely not entirely possible. It is a huge challenge that was not anticipated by our elected officials when they ran for office. Nevertheless, the buck stops with them. When things go wrong, and we know they will, it will be easy to point fingers at them and even say, “I told you so.”
But here is the challenge. We all need to help keep the COVID curve down, masks in public buildings, social distancing, frequent hand washing, the whole nine yards. Those of us who can should also seriously consider downloading the COVID Alert App.
Recently there has been one unfortunate incident in Huntsville, which was well managed. There will be more incidents, but we all need to do everything we can to avoid an actual outbreak. So far, we have been fortunate. We have been relatively careful, which has allowed us to achieve better results and control than many other communities. We need to keep it that way.
We also need to support our elected officials, who ultimately have to make the hard decisions, as we embrace a new normal. It is important to keep them accountable and transparent. It is equally important to remember that they have a job to do and finger pointing, second guessing, and crankiness do not help them achieve it.
After all, as tired as the phrase may be becoming, we really are all in this together!
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