Submitted by the Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce
Four Muskoka chambers of commerce met with Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and MPP Norm Miller on Friday, March 12 to share chamber member concerns, provide feedback, offer support for a speedy vaccine rollout, and highlight the importance of frontline workers regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.
The video meeting with Dr. Gardner included the executive directors of Muskoka Lakes, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, and Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chambers of Commerce, as well as business owner David Kitchen from Field of Greens Port Carling. The meeting was facilitated by MPP Norm Miller.
The chambers brought forward recommendations and offered support for a faster vaccine rollout, and requested consistent messaging for businesses and assurances that a business voice will be included in vaccination plans. Concerns were raised about frontline workers, specifically in close-proximity situations, as well as concerns about staff shortages being exacerbated by people afraid to work when the seasonal population swells in late spring and summer.
The request for consideration for future, more targeted regional restrictions was also discussed.
Norah Fountain of the Muskoka Lakes Chamber assured Dr. Gardner that the chambers will always take their guidance from the health unit, with a caveat: “We need assurances that the concerns of our businesses are also being heard.”
“With the April spring break soon upon us we are expecting an early swell of population,” continued Fountain. “While business owners are working hard to keep staff safe, some are experiencing increased staff shortages, an already exasperated issue. Getting our frontline workers of all ages vaccinated sooner would be a great help.”
David Kitchen from Field of Greens Port Carling advocated for frontline workers. He stressed the importance for local and small businesses to have a voice at the table to help collaborate regarding how vaccines are administered. “There needs to be a more considered and measured approach towards the effect of COVID on small, seasonal, northern businesses,” said Kitchen. “As a northern small business, under strain and risk, recruiting and hiring and transporting staff is very challenging at the best of times. We need to define where essential frontline workers fit in terms of an expedited accelerated vaccination process.”
Support for vaccine rollout was stressed by Sandy Lockhart from the Gravenhurst Chamber who added local chambers have support from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC). “If holes exist, that if filled could accelerate rollout as supplies arrive, then the OCC will find organizations to help. Vaccination is the biggest priority for our membership. On a more local level, we want to help. I would even do a midnight shift assessment, and I know that I can gather community volunteers and support.”
From 7,000 doses a week to 7,000 a day
Dr. Gardner indicated how very aware he is of differences within Simcoe Muskoka. “Provision of vaccination is my top priority right now, and it’s the great opportunity we have to bring this under control to come out of the pandemic and get back to much more normal living and open up the economy.”
Dr. Gardner also expressed how critical the rollout of the vaccine is to getting back to normal. “We’re on the cusp of getting more, the week of March 22nd we expect almost a tripling of the volume of Pfizer vaccine. Right now, we’re giving in the range of 7,000 doses a week and when we get to the height of it, we anticipate it will be something like 7,000 doses a day.”
When asked if Dr. Gardner had words of assurance, what would he suggest we say to people that are actually afraid to work, Dr. Gardner said, “The control measures that we promote and require are very effective and helpful, and people have it within their ability to abide by them. The use of distancing and masking, hand hygiene is critical, the monitoring that people need to do before they go to work and self exclusion. All of that is important and helpful.”
Dr. Gardner acknowledged that this is a tense time, and that workplace immunization will be considered for the future.
The chambers of commerce meet weekly to collaborate on best practices and advocacy for their business community, send daily announcements to their memberships, and will continue to correspond with Dr. Gardner and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
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