How’s that social distancing working out for ya?

city_scope_logo-cmykHave to admit, we haven’t experienced a week like this since, what, the 2008 financial meltdown? Wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage with the city unveiling its balanced approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and city manager Wendell Graves suggesting the management team likely would not have to declare an emergency.
A day later and the Doug Ford government did exactly that.
City hall closed, municipal facilities all shuttered. Students on furlough for at least a couple of weeks.
Ditto for many of their parents.
Have you ever seen traffic on Talbot Street downtown so sporadic?
Do you think life will return to normal on April 6?
Do you think COVID-19 gives a tinker’s damn about a calendar date?

We chatted with Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek right after Premier Ford declared the emergency to get a sense of the new reality we’re facing.
“That was a really, really tough decision to be made,” admitted Yurek. “But you know, I’m glad he made it. It’s the right frame of mind that this is the best thing for the health and safety in this province.”
yurek questionjpgYes, a tough decision with the next step even more daunting . . . shutting down the whole province as California did at the end of the week.
“I mean, you’ve got to protect the supply chain,” stressed Yurek. “Make sure that we’re able to move goods to keep our grocery stores full and the drugstores full.
“But you know, I think the social distancing that people are doing right now is really key to preventing the spread. This is the way to go. The state of emergency declaration yesterday really spelled out we are going to reduce crowds from gathering and keep people away from one another.”
But with schools closed and families self-isolating how are parents and children to deal with the mental stress over an extended period of time?
And, how do you reassure people that these measures will be effective?
“I always tell folks to use your technology in your house. Call people, video conference, try to keep that connection. And those people that know somebody out there who’s isolated by themselves, just make sure you check in on them from time to time.
“You’re right, the mental stress is going to really increase as this continues. I mean, anybody coming home now from the U.S. or from abroad is going to be sitting at home for 14 days. So we’ve just got to make sure we take care of one another.”
And even though Yurek has closed his office to the public, it doesn’t mean he is beyond reach.
“We have the door shut and that protects the constituents, but also our staff. But they are there to answer the phones and be online.
“And, we want people to know that any of the elderly or those with disabilities or anybody who is needing some extra help, we will do what we can to help you through whatever situation you’re in. So, don’t ever hesitate to give us a call.”
Knowing that this is an extremely fluid situation, Yurek said cabinet is meeting regularly via teleconferencing.
“There are some folks in Toronto at the cabinet table, but most of us are on the phone and then caucus is also having calls as well. And it’s a very fluid situation that changes very quickly.
“And, I’m glad that the premier has everything organized in place that we can adapt it as things change in our communities.”

“And just make sure that we practice distancing ourselves in social situations. And if you’ve travelled abroad, or bumped into someone who’s been diagnosed, then self-isolate for 14 days, that’s really, really important.”

So, what will be the new reality? What will the take-away be when the coronavirus situation is wrestled under control?
“I think definitely where will be a review of what occurred much like happened after SARS and H1N1 and the best practices will, of course, be adapted into our systems.
“But, I think I think the big lesson everyone’s learning through this is to wash your hands and use sanitizer and keep up proper hygiene at our workplaces. And, hopefully, that continues beyond this pandemic and we can modify our lifestyles in that way.”
No doubt Yurek and his staff are getting many calls to your constituent office, but what is on the minds of people? What is their mood in this distressing time?
“A lot of people are calling my office with questions of what’s going on with regard to the pandemic and the effects on their work and their bills. And we’re answering as best as possible.
“I’m still having meetings with constituents via conference call. Those that were already planned and some of them are still going forward.
“I’m trying to be as normal as possible during the day with the added dealings of this pandemic and how it’s affecting constituents and making sure I get the information out to people as best as possible.”
Yurek stressed, “People need to remain calm. They need to work together and make sure we’re looking after each other.
“Don’t hoard food. There is lots of food in the supply chain. The government is going to ensure that those remain open.
“And just make sure that we practice distancing ourselves in social situations. And if you’ve travelled abroad, or bumped into someone who’s been diagnosed, then self-isolate for 14 days, that’s really, really important.”
Yurek added, “I remain in contact with all the area mayors and the health authorities and hospitals and the Chamber of Commerce to make sure we’re sharing the proper information amongst ourselves.”
Key to dealing with COVID-19 is the experience gained through the SARS outbreak in 2002/03 that killed 43 people in Canada, the fourth-highest death toll in the world.
“I think SARS gave us the necessary information to create the structure we have in the healthcare system that really protected Ontarians at the start of this pandemic.”
And don’t forget the impact of common sense or lack thereof.
You have to look no further than the empty toilet paper shelves in any grocery store to understand what is really in short supply.


In these uncertain times what is most needed is factual scientific and medical advice and so this corner had a lengthy discussion this week with Dr. Joyce Lock, the medical officer of health at Southwestern Public Health.
Although St. Thomas and Elgin county have no reported cases of COVID-19, Dr. Lock said she is not at all surprised the government declared a state of emergency.
“Yes, we were expecting it the way that the Coronavirus and causes havoc is to spread from one person to the next person who spreads it to 10 other people and those 10 others spread it to another 10 people, and so on.
Dr. Joyce Lock“And so the only way to try and slow down the spread is to keep people from mingling too much. He (Premier Doug Ford) made it very clear that we’re not shutting down the province, but we need to take steps to mitigate any further spread.”
Dr. Lock continued, “So I think we’re trying to run a fine line between keeping our society running and not letting ourselves get into a case where we get too many people sick all at the same time.
“I totally support these interventions by the province of Ontario at this point in time. We don’t have that many cases yet in Ontario. So we’re acting now, we’re acting early. And by acting early, we can hopefully take good steps in not making this as bad for all of us.”
She stressed every one of us has a role to play in combating the spread of the Coronavirus.
“I think that this is a massive undertaking. We have to make sure that all our citizens in Ontario, know what to do so that we can all play a part in keeping this virus at bay.
“And then to do that, a lot of the services require additional resources to play their part. The healthcare system obviously will need significant additional resources and public health needs additional resources.

“But it is a Coronavirus and we’ve had Coronavirus around for a long time. It is a common cold virus that affects a lot of us every winter. This is just a new family member.”

“Our municipalities need to ensure that all our citizens comply with the recommendations, and to put other initiatives in place to keep their community safe needs resources. That’s a good move.”
What words of advice can parents give to children who may begin to experience anxiety as the self-isolation period drags on?
“For certain, there is a lot of concern and anxiety in our community. And understandably so. This is a new virus for us. And so, no one really knows what to expect.
“But it is a Coronavirus and we’ve had Coronavirus around for a long time. It is a common cold virus that affects a lot of us every winter. This is just a new family member.
“And so for some of our citizens, it’s going to make them a bit more sick, some very sick with pneumonia. And for our vulnerable, they are more at risk for developing that serious pneumonia and complications from it.
“But for the bulk of the population, and particularly, research from China is showing, especially for the very young, they tend to get only a mild infection, a mild cold. So I think a lot of us are going to be sick with a mild cold.”
It is inevitable the virus will appear in our community, suggested Dr. Lock and that is when it is particularly important to take the right steps.
“There are people who will get more sick with it and we need to do our part to stay away from those people and to be sure that if we do need to visit them, we wash our hands and we don’t visit them when they’re sick.
“So these are our seniors, our family members in our long-term care homes. Our relatives who might have diabetes or chronic lung disease from smoking. And those are people who are more at risk. So we encourage those people to be more diligent about staying home.
“And we encourage their family members to be more diligent about making sure they’re healthy before they go to visit.”
While many in the region are now self-isolating or working from home, Dr. Lock stressed it doesn’t mean people cut themselves off from society.
“We all don’t want to be lonely in our home. So remember, there are telephones, there’s Facebook, there are all kinds of video conferencing that people can do. But to show that we still stay in touch with those who are staying home. So they know that we are there for them, even if they can’t get out right now.”
Some individuals may have received a shot recently to protect them from pneumonia. We asked Dr. Lock if this would also protect them from the onset of pneumonia should they contract the Coronavirus?
“There is a yes and a no to that question. The pneumococcal vaccine (which people who got the shot would have received) gives you immunity against a particular type of bacterial pneumonia from the pneumococcus bacteria and that often affects elderly people.
“But it doesn’t protect you against the COVID-19 infection which is caused not by bacteria but by a virus.
“But, that said, sometimes people can get hit with two things at once. And so you can make yourself more resistant to other infections if you get your pneumococcal vaccine. And we are still in the flu season. If you haven’t had your influenza vaccine, that’s another good thing. So least it decreases your risk of having two infections at the same time, which would really put a strain on your body.”
Will the onset of warmer weather help curt the spread of the coronavirus as it does with the flu we experience each winter?
“We don’t quite know if the Coronavirus is going to behave the same way. It tends not to have the seasonal variation that the flu virus does. So we’re hopeful.
“There’s been some preliminary research that seems to indicate that the new Coronavirus doesn’t reproduce quite as fast when it’s warmer. So we’re cautiously optimistic, but we won’t actually know until we get through our spring and summer season and see what happens.”

“So I’m encouraging all people to seriously think if you have symptoms of a cold, do yourself justice, do your community justice and do your family justice by just staying home.”

The concern now advised Dr. Lock, is we are beginning to see the coronavirus spreading through community contact and not just from travellers returning from holiday as will be the case this weekend following the March break.
“There have been cases in Toronto where someone has gotten the infection not from being abroad. We know that they must have got it from somebody else in Toronto. So we’re beginning to see community spread in Toronto and so it probably won’t be long before we see that here.
“We used to say the risk is low, very low. I think the risk is going up a little bit here. And I think that people would do well if they have any symptoms of a cold, just to stay home.
“We won’t easily be able to tell if you have a common cold or this new Coronavirus, we just won’t be able to test every last person. And, every last person doesn’t need to be tested because most people will just have mild symptoms.
“So I’m encouraging all people to seriously think if you have symptoms of a cold, do yourself justice, do your community justice and do your family justice by just staying home.

“I think citizens should begin to think that this situation might go on for a bit longer before we’re out of it.”

“Your employer will understand that at this time, and I do think that the ministry, through its emergency action announcement, will figure out ways to compensate for impacts into our community.
“I think our overarching goal right now is to try and prevent the spread of infection and every last citizen has to play their part.”
Keeping in mind thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, travelled during the March break and how many of them will self-isolate for the full 14 days?
Otherwise, the next 10 to 14 days could see a dramatic spike in the number of cases of COVID-19.
As for life beginning to return to normal early in April. Don’t count on it, advised Dr. Lock.
“I think citizens should begin to think that this situation might go on for a bit longer before we’re out of it. And so again, you know, try and pace yourself, try and start to think, if we won’t have all these community activities for a while yet to come, how are we going to entertain ourselves and keep ourselves happy during these times.”
Now, more than ever, take care of each other.

Related post:


We touched briefly last week on the city’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan, part of the larger scale Positioned for Growth Study undertaken by Dillon Consulting.
The plan was unanimously endorsed by council at Monday’s (March 16) meeting, however, as we alluded to last week, concerns were raised on the financial implications of undertaking all 79 recommendations.
According to Ross Tucker, Director of Parks, Recreation and Property Management, “Staff is very pleased with the 79 recommendations that the consultant included in the implementation strategy.”
Many of those recommendations are quite imaginative and intriguing in their possibilities.
Parks and Recreation Master Plan 2019Such as the recommendation to consider the development and implementation of youth leadership programs in St. Thomas.
At the other end of the age spectrum, work with the board at the St. Thomas Seniors’ Centre and other like partners to enhance recreation program opportunities for older adults across the city and integrate age-specific programs and services into future indoor recreation development.
Mayor Joe Preston is always touting the good working relationship with our neighbouring municipalities, and so recommendation 13 is of particular value.
“Work with adjacent municipalities to discuss a reciprocal and/or cost-sharing arrangement for use of parks, recreation and culture services and facilities in St. Thomas. This may take the form of a fiscal contribution from participating municipalities to offset the net expenditures for provision in St. Thomas.”
Coun. Steve Peters cautioned about that one. Roads out of the city are paid for and maintained by the county.
Recommendation 28 may raise a few eyebrows.
“Focus efforts on maximizing use of soccer fields at the three core parks (1Password Park, Athletic Park and Cowan Park) and consider repurposing under-utilized stand-alone soccer fields to other in-demand uses, such as those at the Douglas J. Tarry Sports Complex and Optimist Park. No additional soccer or multi-use fields are recommended during the planning period.”
Boarders will love Number 36.
“Proceed with the second phase of skatepark development (as was planned during the initial build) in the medium-to-long term. Expansion should focus on more challenging obstacles for advanced skaters and riders (e.g., bowl, etc.) and support amenities (e.g., shade, etc.).”
If you’re a dog owner, forget more off-leash parks.
“In lieu of developing additional dog parks, continue to work with stewardship groups to improve year-round maintenance and signage at the Lions Club Dog Park to support safe access and use by area residents.”
Think we need another ice pad? That’s being discouraged.
“An additional ice pad in St. Thomas is not recommended at this time. To ensure supply and demand are in equilibrium, the city should remain apprised of the regional usage and supply as populations and participation rates evolve over time.”
Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands was drooling at the possibilities afforded by Number 47.
“Discuss partnership opportunities with the Family YMCA and adjacent municipalities to maximize long-term public access to indoor aquatic facilities. This may involve an agreement for enhanced access to the existing YMCA pool or a partnership involving the development of a multi-tank replacement facility,
possibly in connection with a future multi-use recreation facility.”

“Not everything can be a high priority. Let’s identify the top two or three.”

And, recommendation 56 has the imagination revving in high gear.
“Work with community partners toward the development of a dedicated festival/event site in St. Thomas, possibly on the railway lands (pending the satisfactory resolution of environmental concerns and a viable cost-sharing and site operational agreement).”
Should there be wi-fi access in city parks?
The plan recommends it.
And just when you thought the site of the former Northside Arena had fallen off the radar, how about this reminder.
“Develop long-term strategies for the development and/or improvement of Joanne Brooks Memorial Park and the CASO railway lands, including potential funding sources and partnerships.”
A keen observation from Coun. Jeff Kohler, who noted many of these recommendations are rated a high priority.
So, what is the timeline for fitting them into future city budgets?
Which prompted this from Coun. Mark Tinlin.
“Not everything can be a high priority. Let’s identify the top two or three.”
Remember that analogy of a kid standing in a candy store?

Related post:


Carrie Hedderson Smith was certainly upset with the revelation last week of city manager Wendell Graves 2019 salary as per the public sector salary disclosure item.

“Maybe we could take some of Wendell’s undeserved raise which puts him at $197,642/year for not wanting to deal with taxpayers and do some good with it. I vote hospice.
“With all the unresolved issues and back door deals here in town I don’t feel he is very effective in his role. Maybe his role could be outlined for the taxpayer- you know transparency and all. He’s been in for a long time- too long.
“What are his accomplishments for that kind of pay? A 3k raise this year when most of us are barely staying in our homes killing ourselves to find jobs that will last, seems well, quite a bit out of touch for a city with so many problems.
“My two cents and I’m not interested in hearing it’s a comparable wage with other municipalities. Are they scum central? What has happened to this town????
“If he’s in charge and doing his job it should be much much better than this. Just my two cents.”

Which prompted this rebuttal from Dave Mathers.

“Carrie Hedderson Smith’s classless and uninformed criticism of Wendell Graves cannot go unchallenged. This man is the CEO of a corporation that oversees over $170 MILLION per year. Private sector CEOs with similar budgets get WAY more money than Graves gets.”

And, our item on the city attempting to establish a policy for dealing with community grants resulted in this observation from Jaime Burns.

“Was that Preston’s fancy way of saying ‘we’re going to start interrogating organizations about their spending habits and tell them how we think they should be spending and if they don’t like it too bad?'”

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