Even with the vaccines, the coronavirus “is not something that we can leave and forget about in the immediate future” – Dr. Joyce Lock

city_scope_logo-cmykWhile the new COVID-19 case numbers have retreated somewhat at the back end of this week, they remain disturbingly high. In the Southwestern Public Health region as of Friday, two key indicators are red-flagged.
The percent positivity rate has risen sharply to six per cent, with a number above five meaning there is widespread community transmission at this moment.
As recently as mid-October the number was well below one per cent.
And, the ongoing cumulative confirmed case rate per 100,000 population sits at 166.4 for the health unit’s coverage area. For St. Thomas. it is even higher at 169.6, although it has dropped significantly this week.
Any number above 40 per 100,000 population is enough to keep the region in the COVID-19 Red-Control or Grey-Lockdown zone. Two weeks into the provincial shutdown, these are not encouraging signs. Moreso with in-class learning for elementary school students pushed back another two weeks and word this week hospital patients in the province’s hot spots may be moved into other regions to take pressure off an overloaded healthcare system.
We’ll be talking to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital CEO Robert Biron about this next week.
Throw into the mix a dearth of available vaccines in the coming days and you have to wonder who is behind the wheel of the bus.
Dr. Joyce LockThe health unit held its monthly board meeting Thursday and medical officer of health, Dr. Joyce Lock, shed some light on the local situation.
She began with the announcement this week of pausing in-class learning until the end of the month, leaving parents to scramble with daycare arrangements.
“We locally were supportive of keeping the kids out of school a bit longer,” stressed Dr. Lock. “But there are risks associated with that.
“It’s very challenging for parents to work at home and do education at home. And also, there are children who have food insecurity and that is exacerbated.”
These children will not have access to healthy eating programs provided at schools during this period.
Dr. Lock continued, “There are children who live in abusive settings and that issue gets exacerbated.
“So it wasn’t something that was advocated for without serious consideration. But currently, because of the rising case numbers, we think that even if we did open schools, the fact we have so much community spread at the moment means we probably would be closing one classroom after another relatively rapidly in the coming weeks.”

“Our projections still indicate numbers will continue to rise and, perhaps, our daily case count may continue to rise.”

As to COVID-19 testing in schools, “They were considering it as to its applicability, but I haven’t read the outcome from the groups working on that particular question at this time.”
As to the present case numbers across the province she advised, “I suspect there will be ongoing observation as to how the disease is spreading in the province.
“Keeping an eye on numbers and location of those outbreaks. What age brackets those outbreaks are occurring in.”
Of note locally, more than half of the 352 ongoing cases in the region on Thursday of this week are individuals under the age of 50 and of those, 53 are under the age of 20.

“How it will impact the availability of space in hospitals and ICU and how it will impact the illness and death rate among the more susceptible individuals.”

Dr. Lock cautioned, “Our projections still indicate numbers will continue to rise and, perhaps, our daily case count may continue to rise.”
She has previously advised case counts could approach 100 per day in the near future. The region set a one-day record of 75 new cases reported on Jan. 2.
That dropped back to 40 new cases reported yesterday (Jan. 8).
Dr. Lock advises the provincial shutdown “is definitely a necessary intervention at the time it was instituted and we make actually continue to see additional measures because we haven’t actually yet seen a significant enough flattening of the curve to feel good enough about it.”
And then there is the question as to the impact of the vaccines on the spread of the coronavirus.
“How it will impact the availability of space in hospitals and ICU and how it will impact the illness and death rate among the more susceptible individuals.
“Even if we manage to get everybody vaccinated this year, COVID is not something that we can leave and forget about in the immediate future.


Last week we ran down the highlights of the city’s 2021 budget and noted the increase of 5.81 per cent in the police service budget to $13.5 million, with a 77 per cent increase in part-time wages to $309,000 and an 8 per cent hike in full-time wages to $9.7 million.
herridgejpgChief Chris Herridge added some clarity to those numbers to put them in perspective, including the fact the budget increase is, in fact, over a two-year period.
In an email to us, he advises, “Our contract ended in 2019 and bargaining never finished until spring 2020 – so it was was too late to include any increases in the 2020 budget because the tax levy was already set.
“As a result, the 2020 increase was carried over to 2021 – resulting in a higher percentage for 2021.”
As for the substantial increase in part-time wages, Herridge explained it is due in part to a current posting now becoming a civilian position and the hiring of four part-time communicators who are paid for by the Town of Aylmer for providing dispatch services.
Those salaries are topped up through partial use of grant funding received to assign a detective to Internet Child Exploitation cases.
We talked with Herridge to get up to speed on these factors.
He indicated only two of the communicators have been hired at this stage with the other two being hired in the near future.

“And, if they’re still going to welcome us in schools we can move forward in civilianizing that position.”

As for the civilian position, in an effort to save money, one of the elementary school officer positions now filled by a constable, will become a special constable posting.
It’s similar to what has been undertaken by the Woodstock Police Service.
Having police officers in school has become a thorny issue and filling the position with a special constable is what Herridge refers to “as a softer approach.”
He stresses St. Thomas Police have “a great relationship with the Thames Valley school board and the London District Catholic School Board,” and this softer approach might enhance the relationship.
“They’re doing a review of the school resource officer program in our area and we’re hoping to have that completed by early spring.
“And, if they’re still going to welcome us in schools we can move forward in civilianizing that position.”
It’s all about building relationships.
As for the body camera pilot project, it concludes at the end of this month and a survey will be made available to garner feedback.
The response internally, according to Herridge, has been very positive.
A report is to be presented to the Police Services Board by the end of February.

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Council has approved an amount to be doled out this year for community grants (approximately $250,000 this year) however at Monday’s (Jan. 4) council meeting, Coun. Gary Clarke wondered whether there will be an application process this year and when “we’ll be divvying up the pie?”
City manager Wendell Graves indicated a report will be in front of council before the end of the month “so you can have the details of what we’re going to recommend to you.”
There was a lengthy discussion about the ongoing and extremely flexible grant process at the Nov. 2 reference committee meeting.
Of course, you won’t remember any of those details as that is the evening the live stream went AWOL.
No doubt the city manager’s report will get council and ratepayers back working on the same page.

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If you live downwind from the city’s pollution control plant, then there are many days when you are intimately aware of its presence.
pollution control plantYou’ve probably heard this before, but relief for your olfactory organs may be imminent.
Coun. Steve Peters raised the question Monday in the wrap up to budget approval. He questioned  Justin Lawrence, director of environmental service, about the bio-solids rooftop odour control unit listed in this year’s capital budget.
“We know this has been an ongoing smelly situation,” observed Peters. “Any info Justin can provide would be appreciated.”
Lawrence advised the city is awaiting project approval from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
“We had to do a noise study of the plant and we had to do odour monitoring and modelling as well.
“In the meantime, we were able to clean the old system out and, by cleaning that, we improved the odour control reduction greatly and so in the last month it’s been operating at peak performance, so we’ve been happy with that.
“So, in the short term, we’ve got a great odour control improvement.”
The critical question is, can the new unit be in place before those hot, humid days of July? Now, there’s the real nose test.

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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.


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