Today, Stacey Thornton should be celebrating the second anniversary of her business, Orbis Muskoka, with joy. Instead she’s on the brink of losing her business due to COVID-19 rolling lockdowns.
“It’s been rough on my mental health. I am generally a positive, happy person but when your future is out of your control it makes for a difficult thought process,” said Thornton. “Worry, stress, and the unknown are very difficult to handle.”
“Luckily, I know many people in the community and the vast majority have either offered to help or have helped,” she said. “We’re all struggling right now. Even though I’m having a hard time, I want to help others. We need to stand up and make the government realize this latest lockdown makes no sense. How does a business—salons, gyms, tattoo parlours, spas—that follow the rules, strictly, get shut down? Yet, retail stays open? It’s confusing to say the least.”
Thornton posted a video on her business’ Instagram account, before the current lockdown took effect, expressing her frustrations with the current situation. The thought of losing her business brings tears to her eyes.
“I am extremely frustrated at the Ontario government when the only businesses that have been affected by this lockdown in Muskoka are personal care services. Mental health is a huge issue and has only been getting worse, probably in the last decade, to where the numbers are so high we have allocated funds through the government to help these people, me being one of them… I’m actually coming up on [Orbis Muskoka’s] two-year anniversary, which I do not get to celebrate, is devastating,” she said in the opening of her video post. ”
“I have to close down and you can still buy a sweater, you can still go into the mall but you can’t get your hair cut. I’m sorry, I’m very upset,” she said as her voice began to shake. “I don’t understand the government’s ruling. I don’t understand how in 1,000 square feet and at the most four people in here at a time, I have contact tracing, I sanitize everything, I wear a mask, I wear a face shield. My clients are all restricted on what they can bring in here. You’re not allowed to bring a purse, you’re not allowed to bring your children, you’re not allowed to do anything while you are in here. I have followed every rule to a T and I am penalized for no reason. There is no reason.”
Thornton said initially with the COVID-19 outbreak nearly a year ago, she was more worried about the well-being of others and the spread of the virus.
“I wasn’t overly concerned about my business until the third month, then had to borrow money from family. The second lockdown was frustrating but at least they let us get through the holidays so we weren’t as financially stressed; still took it’s toll though. When they extended it by three weeks that hurt but I made it through,” she said. “This third one just made no sense and they didn’t give us enough time to bounce back. Having said that, however, if they wouldn’t have let us open for those two weeks, I definitely would have had to shut down. Those two weeks helped me to be able to scrape through another month.”
Thornton has spent hundreds of dollars on paper, ink, and PPE to follow the rules in place for her business with hope of keeping her doors open and not being shut down. But with Simcoe Muskoka now in a COVID-19 Grey-Lockdown zone, all personal care businesses have been ordered to close—again.
“I can’t stay open… but you can go buy a pair of earrings and I can’t even afford my rent. I don’t understand it. I don’t get it. I’m hurt and I’m suffering and I have the best support system in the entire world but it’s not enough,” she said through tears in her video posted on Sunday, Feb. 28. “The government has to do something. The government has to separate Muskoka from Simcoe. We have had zero cases in the last two days and I have to shut my doors tomorrow for God knows how long. It is heartbreaking.”
Like Thornton, many residents and business owners have been asking for months to separate Muskoka from Simcoe County in the health unit’s joint designation, as there are typically more cases in Simcoe, which negatively impacts Muskoka when the health unit suggests which colour level the area should be under in the provincial COVID-19 response framework.
“With the announcement of the Grey-Lockdown in Simcoe Muskoka, many business owners and other citizens affected by this have reached out to me to express their deep concerns of the impacts on businesses including the endangerment of businesses and people’s livelihood, the negative impacts on physical and mental health, the loss of access to cherished activities, and the inequity of this designation when considering the designation in neighbouring locations. They have also questioned the necessity of this designation, in particular in Muskoka, which is much less heavily impacted by COVID-19, as well as the apparent ineffectiveness of such restrictions in preventing people from more heavily impacted areas in the GTA from coming here. I am also aware of the concerns of this nature raised on social media, and in an online petition,” wrote Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU medical officer of health, in a letter to business owners dated March 1.
“I will also continue to provide the province with information on the health status of our communities regarding COVID-19 and the UK variant. It may be that our overall incidence of COVID-19 remains stable or declines despite the rise in the UK variant; if this is the case, we may be able to move into a lower colour designation in the provincial framework in the near future. The designations are reviewed weekly by the province, though I recognize that frequent movement from one designation to another is a challenge in and of itself to manage. However, it is important to know that we may also see a rise in the incidence of COVID-19 due to the impact of the UK variant; this is the outcome that I am seeking to avoid with our present approach.”
Thornton and many of her supporters have sent her video to MPP Norm Miller and hasn’t yet received a response.
“Every day, every day I’m scared. Every day I’m stressed,” she said through deep breaths in her video. ‘I just had a client who works at Arrowhead [Provincial] Park [say] 75 per cent of the people who go there are from Toronto. They’re not stopped and they’re allowed, they’re allowed to be in groups of 10, 12 and 15 people all huddled together, not wearing a mask and I can’t keep my doors open and I follow every rule. I’m heartbroken. I don’t want to lose my business. I don’t want anyone else to lose their business. I’m not an anti-masker. That’s the hardest part about all of this. There are so many people who are anti-maskers who are making a stink and I support them because they’re just trying to help themselves and they’re trying to keep their businesses alive and I’m not an anti-masker. I wear my mask everywhere I go, I sanitize everywhere I go. I follow the rules and being a person who has always followed the rules my whole life, not being credited for that and not being allowed to keep my business open because I followed the rules makes no sense.”
As we approach the one-year mark since the first COVID-19 lockdown, Thornton said we need to learn to live with the virus instead of being focused on stopping it.
“It’s easy to blame other people for this virus spreading. But it’s a virus. We will never be rid of it. Not even when the vaccine comes out,” she said. “It will always be here and we need to learn to live with it instead of trying to stop it. It’s a losing battle and hurts way more people unnecessarily.”
She urges residents to continue to support their local businesses the best they can under restrictions.
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