Do you have the feeling we’ve spent the last nine months trying our best – most of us, that is – only to find we’re right back at Square 1 with a shut down effective Monday.
A whole lot of one step forward and two steps back.
We spoke with Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek on Tuesday (Dec. 22) about his government’s decision to wind many things down for a minimum of 28 days.
And, why wait almost a week instead of starting Christmas Eve as was originally planned.
“The key to the lockdown is to open up space in the hospitals,” advised Yurek, “especially the ICU rooms across the province. We’re getting almost to capacity and you need the space in order to have other emergency surgeries like heart, stroke, etc. open for those spaces.”
As of Thursday, Southwestern Public Health was advising of eight hospitalizations across the region due to COVID-19 infections with two of those individuals in the ICU.
“That’s the key criteria,” continued Yurek, “to keep the cases numbers down and open up capacity in the hospitals. The doctors have informed us four weeks should be a good enough time period to do so.”
Going into the shutdown, the province had been averaging more than 2,000 new cases per day, often with 30 to 40 deaths. So how far would the case count have to drop over the 28 days to start moving regions back into less restrictive COVID-19 coloured zones?
We currently are in the Orange-Restrict Zone.
“Certainly, we could go right back to the Green Zone if the cases drop down.”
The number Yurek is referencing is the number of cases per 100,000 population and our region had a dismal rate of 93.1 ongoing confirmed cases per 100,000 population.
“I think we have great potential in our region to get back to the Green Zone in four weeks.”
As of Monday, once again it will be the small businesses that will take an economic hit while the Costcos and WalMarts ring up healthy in-store sales.
If you remember earlier this month during the one-week education program undertaken in St. Thomas and Elgin, it was determined the small, independent businesses complied with COVID-19 regulations.
Police corporate communications officer Tanya Calvert noted at the time the results of the education campaign are a true indicator downtown merchants care about the health and safety of staff and customers.
Yet once again, they will be limited to online and phone orders with delivery and curbside pickup.
“It’s going to be tough going for folks,” conceded Yurek, “especially those small businesses that are being affected. I know there are some supports out there that the government is coming forward with. New supports to help them get through the 28 days.
“It’s not the best of situations but, at the end of the day, it’s going to free up our hospitals and ensure we save some lives and get us back into the Green Zone.”
But is the problem really hospital capacity in this the health unit’s region?
In the health unit’s coverage area this week, the alarming issue is the hefty spike in cases at long-term care homes.
Currently, 10 residents and eight staff members at Maple Manor in Tillsonburg have tested positive, with 10 staff and four residents at People Care in Tavistock, two staff members at Bethany Care Home in Norwich and Chartwell in Aylmer, a staff member at Seasons Retirement Home in St. Thomas, three staff at Terrace Lodge in Malahide and a resident at Elgin Manor in Southwold.
“The government puts in rules and lockdowns to try and minimize the spread of the virus but it’s our decisions we all make every day.”
Can you efficiently operate one of these facilities with 10 staff members isolating due to the coronavirus?
And why the shift in strategy from a regional approach to a province-wide shutdown? Does that not confirm the province’s overall game plan has not been effective?
“We had to move away because the cases were spreading into our long-term care homes and in other regions, the ICUs were filling up. So, it was time to take a new approach for 28 days and have us back in a better position and utilizing some of the Christmas holidays to backstop how many businesses would be affected.”
If timing is so critical why push the shutdown back from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day?
“The final decision hadn’t been made when it was leaked out. It was still in discussion and cabinet came forward on the advice of the chief medical officer of health to have it on Dec. 26.”
No matter what the province institutes concerning COVID-19 restrictions, the success will still come down to individual buy-in, which could be put to the test over the Christmas/New Year’s Day break.
“Well, that’s the key. It’s individual choice and responsibility to try and follow the rules as best as possible because that is how you are going to stop the spread.
“The government puts in rules and lockdowns to try and minimize the spread of the virus but it’s our decisions we all make every day.
“It’s a tough one to make to continue to follow the rules until we get the vaccine out to enough folks.
“We can do it if everyone does their best to follow the health guidance rules, we can keep the disease down to a minimum and keep some semblance of normalcy in our lives.”
NO FREE RIDE THIS YEAR
The coronavirus has kicked free New Year’s Eve bus rides to the curb this year. The city revealed Tuesday (Dec. 22) the traditional rides are to be parked following announcement the day before of the provincial shutdown.
City manager Wendell Graves explained the emergency control group met Tuesday morning to review the directives issued by the province Monday.
The free rides were one area discussed and the group felt the city should not be promoting people travelling from house to house or anywhere else on New Year’s Eve.
St. Thomas Transit will operate a regular schedule that day terminating at 6:45 p.m.
At the Dec. 14 reference committee meeting council was briefed on the city’s three-year strategic plan setting out priorities, guiding principles, goals and commitments.
Members were able to delve into the three strategic priorities in the coming years: building a compassionate community, creating a vibrant community and ensuring a thriving community.
It was the latter pillar that generated engaging discussion, beginning with Commitment 4 to “Create a physical concept plan and determine the location for a new community and aquatic centre in order to be prepared for future funding opportunities by June 2022.”
The driving force behind this is Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands but it was Coun. Gary Clarke who sought concrete answers on where this commitment is headed.
“For me, that is a huge leap,” observed Clarke, “and I’m not sure if that is premature. I guess it depends on what we’re really going to do by 2022.
“I didn’t think there was full agreement that it was needed or, at least, needed in the immediate future. I understand we are trying to create a concept plan by 2022, but what is the long-term plan and when do we see this aquatic centre and new community centre will be built by and needed by and how would we fund it?”
To which city manager Wendell Graves responded, “You really hit on the key things. This is just creating a concept plan.
“By the time we have stakeholder groups together we’re going to understand their needs because there are other groups in the community that have needs as well.
“Presumably,” continued Graves, “if all of this comes together there is going to be some alignment of thought and action. And ultimately, if it’s ever going to happen, some alignment on funding.
“There’s no commitment here by 2022 we’re going to have shovels in the ground, although it could happen.”
TALKING STRATEGICALLY PART 2
The inclusion of a much-needed new animal shelter in the Strategic Plan seemed to generate some discomfort amongst members of council.
But it was Coun. Joan Rymal who hit the ball out of the park on this much bandied-about issue.
Coun. Jim Herbert wondered how the fundraising efforts are coming along for the shelter.
Graves tried to punt that question out of bounds by observing, “I think that’s outside the strategic objective. I’m not sure where that’s at.
“It’s all predicated on where that all lands. Keep in mind these are all strategic goals and objectives that came out of community consultation.
“So we’re just trying to see how does this look and feel over the next three years? If this comes into play, then this can happen.
“If the community can make it happen, then it will happen.”
Over now to Coun. Rymal to bring the animal shelter into perspective since the onus somehow has shifted to community fundraising to ensure a mandated service is adequately provided by the city.
Rymal opened with the fact she is pleased the shelter is specifically identified in the plan.
“I do think the fundraising effort is really almost a barrier to getting the animal shelter re-done. With a pandemic situation and people currently trying to fund for animals which is going directly to animal care which is quite costly.”
So, fundraising is an ongoing effort but it is to pay for the day-to-day care of cats and dogs.
“The animal shelter,” continued Coun. Rymal, “is just another piece of infrastructure like the police station, the fire hall and the social services building.
“It’s another piece of infrastructure and you’ve got funds through the infrastructure renewal program.
“I know this is just a high-level item at the moment, but December 2023, that’s a long way off for that shelter and, as I’ve said, it’s an infrastructure project and I also think there is a health and safety issue and I would like to see that reconsidered as far as being an earlier date.
“And the fundraising a little bit more realistic with fundraising connected to that project.”
Boom. Rymal just rode that ball downtown in a taxi.
She continued, there is no organized fundraising group at this time and the question is why is there a need for one to proceed with a city infrastructure project?
The existing shelter badly needs to be replaced. It not a healthy facility for the pets nor city staff.
The conditions are deplorable. If it was privately run you have to ask would it have been shut down by now?
“But, we didn’t say we had to have those or we weren’t going to build it. Anything we get from the fundraising committee would be a bonus.”
And, as Rymal reminded, the project includes a dog park and overflow parking for the ball complex. Are the users of both those facilities being asked to fundraise?
She continued it is no different than the recent renewal of the washroom at Pinafore Park. Are those visitors who have to relieve themselves forced to pay a loonie before using?
When asked to comment, Graves was still watching that ball Coun. Rymal hit out of the park.
He noted it is conceivable the shelter could be completed before 2023 “and this is just reflecting council’s dialogue to date . . . which will be on the table for further discussion as time moves on.”
Coun. Clarke closed out the discussion by noting “I agree with Coun. Rymal with regard to the shelter but I’m glad the way it’s worded, it is open-ended.
“It’s a service we have to provide. If we feel we need a new animal shelter, then we need to build one.
“But, just as we did with the skate park and we do with a number of fields, we had a commitment from the soccer club where they provided the nets and things (for 1Password Park).
“But, we didn’t say we had to have those or we weren’t going to build it. Anything we get from the fundraising committee would be a bonus.
“We know what happened with the Joe Thornton arena. They came up short with fundraising.”
“The support we get from the community for an animal shelter might make it happen quicker or enhance the project in some way.
GROUND CONTROL TO MAYOR JOE
Mayor Joe Preston responded to the above discussion and closed out the strategic plan portion of the meeting with a very lofty observation.
“I agree with what you’re saying but I would like to move this from the landing strip back up to about 30,000 feet.
“The strategic plan is exactly that. Our kind of look forward and it mentions some very good projects that have to be part of that looking forward.
“But that happens after we say ‘Yes’ to the strategic plan.
“Strategic plans work well when they are visited. When they don’t sit on the shelf collecting dust.
“If this council makes a commitment of one time a month reviewing the strategic plan and what steps did we take in the last 30 days, then each of the projects that are listed here will actually move forward if they have value in those 30 days.”
The final step of the project – compiled by representatives from Fanshawe College who point out the guiding principle of the plan is an “environmentally responsible community” through a “sustainable perspective” – will be delivered to council in a more graphic presentation in the new year.
FOR THE CALENDAR
Council members will formally approve the 2021 operating and capital budgets at its meeting on Jan. 4. The increase to the municipal property tax levy is 1.5 per cent.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.