It was not your typical venue in which Mayor Joe Preston was able to meet with constituents.
Thursday morning’s face-to-face with frustrated downtown merchants played out along a back alley that every morning is littered with discarded drug paraphernalia and other detritus of the downtrodden.
It’s a habitat for the homeless and those with mental health issues who utilize back doorsteps and alcoves as personal relief stations.
Hidden from passersby on Talbot Street, it’s where staff often find the less fortunate huddled, unconscious or attempting to harm themselves.
It was against this desperate backdrop that a dozen or so core merchants – already pummelled financially by the pandemic – pleaded with Preston to return this stretch of the downtown corridor to a more inviting destination for shoppers.
With COVID-19 testing centres in London overwhelmed this week as a result of the Western University outbreak and the province aiming to up the testing across the province to 50,000 per day in short order, what is the status of the assessment centre at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital?
President and CEO Robert Biron says there has been an uptick in the number of daily tests however there is spare capacity at the centre.
Speaking with Biron this week he confirmed, “Yes, we are seeing an influx from a number of sources.
Earlier this spring, we referred to them as the other victims of the coronavirus. Those individuals whose lives had been put on hold as their elective surgeries and procedures were postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At that time, the province released details of the framework to be adhered to by hospitals as they prepared to tackle the backlog of surgeries.
St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Robert Biron said there was a backlog of well over 1,000 surgeries staff would have to deal with.
Moving forward, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal at the end of August suggested clearing the backlog across the province could take 84 weeks.
To follow up on last week’s item on the pilot project to be undertaken by the St. Thomas Police Service to evaluate body cameras, Chief Chris Herridge indicated the small police force in Kentville, Nova Scotia may prove to be a valuable resource during the evaluation. We contacted Kentville police and exchanged emails with Deputy Chief Marty Smith who was most helpful with his responses to our questions. As to how long the service has employed body cameras he noted, “The Kentville Police Service started with a pilot project in 2015 under retired Chief Mark Mander. “In the beginning, we only had a few members outfitted with Body-Worn Cameras to see if they would be beneficial for our members and the public. In 2018 KPS developed a policy and every patrol member wears a BWC when working.”
In a move “to ensure the city has a police service accountable to those they serve,” the St. Thomas Police Service will soon undertake a pilot project to evaluate the use of body cameras. The decision to proceed with the test was approved Wednesday by the Police Services Board, advised chairman Dave Warden. He continued, “The St. Thomas Police Services Board supports building public trust, community support and enhancing officer safety and public safety.” We caught up with Police Chief Chris Herridge the next day for insight into the partnership with Axon Public Safety Canada, which supplies the service with Tasers. The critical first step, stressed Herridge, is the trial run with a limited number of officers over a yet-to-be-determined period of time.
Video surveillance will soon be keeping a watchful eye over the city’s downtown core. At Tuesday’s (May 19) meeting, members of council will be asked to endorse Phase 1 of a project that will see the installation of eight CCTV cameras along a two-kilometre stretch of Talbot Street, from CASO Crossing to Queen Street. The locations were selected based on 2018/19 crime mapping data and motor vehicle collision reporting information. In a report to council from city police, it is noted the CCTV program “is a proactive, local solution modelled on successful networks in other municipalities to enhance community well-being and assist the St. Thomas Police Service with solving crime.” Right now when a crime is committed downtown, police need to canvass businesses to see if they have surveillance footage as evidence.
Sean Dyke, CEO at St. Thomas Economic Development Corp., admits he is feeling a little handcuffed right now. We all know the feeling as we settle in for the long haul in the battle of wits against the coronavirus. We talked with him earlier in the week and in the intervening days, it seems the COVID-19 playbook has been completely amended. We started the conversation on a positive note in that construction is continuing on the Element 5 plant in the Dennis Drive industrial Park. It was announced last July the Toronto-based firm was to set up shop in St. Thomas to produce solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives. It will be a $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. facility with production expected to begin late this year.
As is bandied about across all social media venues, does every individual have the right to demand a COVID-19 test? This week we presented that train of thought to Dr. Joyce Lock, medical officer of health at Southwestern Public Health for her observations. Is an individual with a cough immediately tested for the virus? Not normally. Dr. Lock advises, in simple terms, a test is administered when it is clinically indicated. In other words, the test results will better help the doctor to decide what is the best route of care for that patient. So, in the case of an individual exhibiting mild symptoms, what would be prescribed?
The city’s portion of the cost of providing court security and prisoner transfer (CSPT) has been steadily increasing since it first received money from the province beginning in 2012. That year, the province contributed $75,224. The net budgeted costs to provide the service this year is just over $1 million, with the province providing the city with a grant of $713,000 to offset the expense. That works out to just under 70 per cent of the total cost, down from 74 per cent last year and 83 per cent in 2018. That diminishing financial support was the topic of discussion at a council meeting earlier this month when members unanimously supported a motion to craft a letter to both the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and MPP Jeff Yurek outlining concerns on the mounting court security costs and to seek their assistance in having the province review this matter.