As expected, city council on Monday (Aug. 10) unanimously approved a municipal bylaw which supports the letter of instruction issued at the end of last month by Southwestern Public Health requiring the use of face coverings by individuals inside buildings where there is access to the public.
The bylaw will be in effect until Jan. 15 of next year at which time the need to extend it will be evaluated
But, is it little more than window dressing?
City manager Wendell Graves says the intent now is to train enforcement staff to ensure they understand how the bylaw is to be applied.
Read into that it is unlikely to ever be enforced.
Instead, it will be servers, cashiers and front-line staff who will face the wrath of belligerent customers who stubbornly refuse to wear a mask because it is their right to do so.
At a luncheon held at the beginning of the year at St. Anne’s Centre, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston was nothing short of blunt when it came to the city’s bus system.
“It leaves way too much to be desired. Our transit system doesn’t run on Sundays and it doesn’t run past 6:30 at night.”
As those in attendance lingered over coffee and dessert, Joe reminded them the city has approval from the provincial government to help institute a full seven-day service operating over longer hours.
That approval was delivered on August 8 of last year in front of city hall when Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek confirmed the provincial government is committing $1.8 million for transit projects in St. Thomas.
The money will be used for fleet upgrades – including the purchase of 10 new buses with an additional four vehicles for future expansion – and transit technology, including priority signalling for buses at designated intersections.
The feelers have been out there for some time now, and last week’s interview with Dr. Joyce Lock, Southwestern Public Health medical officer of health, confirmed the wearing of face masks in enclosed public places was soon to be mandatory in this COVID-19 marathon.
Dr. Lock sealed the deal via a teleconference Thursday (July 30).
There are those who will argue this should have been done back in the spring as the pandemic embers flared into a full-blown blaze.
Our neighbour to the north made the wearing of face coverings compulsory exactly two weeks ago, so why the lag time in the health unit’s watershed?
Dr. Lock touched on that last week noting, “we’re working step in step with our municipal partners to make it as simple a process as possible for individuals, businesses and organizations across our geography.”
This past week Dr. Joyce Lock, Southwestern Public Health medical officer of health, issued a Section 22 order under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act dealing with the need to self-isolate for 14 days if you have symptoms of or are diagnosed with COVID-19.
The order covers the health unit’s coverage area which includes St. Thomas along with Oxford and Elgin counties.
Dr. Lock, in conjunction with provincial health officials, has been stressing the need to self-isolate for more than four months and the order puts some muscle behind this.
Failing to comply could result in a fine of up to $5,000 for every day in which an individual fails to self-isolate.
It appears no coincidence the order, which came into effect yesterday (July 24), comes as the region sees a spike in COVID-19 confirmed cases.
City hall is the battleground this week in a growing controversy.
The central player in all of this is the Horton Market and whether it should be allowed to open at the end of the month to provide a sales venue for area fruit and vegetable growers, among others.
On Tuesday (May 19) city council, by a 5-4 margin, defeated a motion to provide a letter of support for plans to be submitted to the health unit allowing the popular Saturday market to open for the season under COVID-19 restrictions.
We’ll break down that vote in a few minutes.
It didn’t take long for the controversy to flare up, not unlike the divisive environment associated with debate around the city’s twin-pad arena and the new police headquarters.
They are not included in the daily tally issued by health units across the province – including Southwestern Public Health in this area – and yet these individuals have been victimized and their lives put on hold by the coronavirus.
And last week’s release of the framework to be adhered to by hospitals is a welcome ray of hope for those whose elective surgeries and procedures also fell victim to COVID-19.
Although it may still be several weeks before ramping up the numbers, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Robert Biron says the preparatory work is underway.
Speaking with him yesterday (Friday), Biron advised the immediate task is to work with other hospitals in the region to create a joint plan so that all hospitals are working “in a lockstep approach.”
He adds, “There is a lot of complexity involved in that because there is a pandemic we have to account for.
With cramped quarters and no exit doors near the rear of the buses to keep passengers distant from drivers, is it safe to ride St. Thomas Transit in these far-from-normal times?
Well, it appears this week much attention is being paid to the safety of passengers and drivers. But what about the situation over the last month when the transit system was operating a regular service while others in the province had shut down or substantially reduced hours.
And, larger operators with full-sized transit buses could take the front door out of service and have passengers enter and exit the vehicles through the rear door, well away from drivers.
With the city’s fleet of what can only be described as glorified airport parking shuttle buses, the above is not an option.
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?
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?
Have 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?