MINTO – Citing “alarming” COVID-19 case numbers “closer to home,” municipal officials here are asking residents to minimize indoor interactions and strictly follow public health guidelines on mask wearing and physical distancing.
In the municipality’s first online interactive community update on the pandemic since mid-July, CAO Derrick Thomson shared information on “where we are in the second wave of this pandemic.
“Unfortunately we have an alarming case number now and it’s on the rise and cases are getting closer to home,” said Thomson during the Facebook video session on Nov. 17. “We cannot stress enough the importance of social distancing, wearing a mask and not letting your guard down.
“We understand though, the toll that this pandemic has had on our residents, our business owners and we need to stay proactive and safe to protect our community and our businesses and our wellbeing.”
The update followed a Nov. 12 move by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer to order the closure of schools and churches in Old Order Mennonite communities in northern Wellington County. Individuals in these communities have also been ordered to follow public health measures such as wearing masks, reducing the size of social gatherings, cooperating with contact tracing, getting tested for COVID-19 if symptomatic and isolating if sick.
“That was not done easily,” said Mayor George Bridge. “I know, talking to Dr. Mercer, she was quite concerned. But we have to get people to follow the rules on social gatherings.”
He added, “we’re hopeful that the (Old Order Mennonite) community will start to take this very seriously and I think they’re having communications with public health right now and hopeful they can get back on track.
“To keep people safe and stop the outbreak, further steps are required. The intent of the Section 22 order is to immediately stop the spread between households and keep our region as open as possible.”
Bridge said the wider community also needs to be more vigilant to halt the spread of the virus, noting cases numbers are increasing both locally and county wide.
“Just a couple of weeks ago we were sitting with three active cases (in Wellington County) and I think we were feeling pretty good about what was happening. We were able to keep our arenas open and other things we were doing, but as you know it’s just not us … the second wave … it’s getting a little scarier. As of today we have 30 new cases and 55 in total, which actually puts us ahead of both Dufferin and Guelph. We’re part of the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph health unit and we were, at one time, the people who had very low cases and we all felt good about that,” the mayor pointed out.
“We have vaccines and rapid testing coming, but those things won’t get to us for a while. We need to be really watching the ball in the next few weeks to try to get us back to maybe be a little closer to where we were before.”
Noting the local public health region was placed in the Orange Restrict level of the province’s COVID-19 response framework on Nov. 16, Bridge said the designation won’t change much in terms of municipal operations.
“We’re already doing similar to what Orange (requirements are) already.”
However, he noted, “We’ve got a little lax out there to be honest with you. And I see it all the time, even myself I have to be careful sometimes – I don’t think about it as much as I should.
“If we want to get back to maybe a better situation, we have to look at not attending social gatherings held outside people’s households. Don’t let children go to anyone’s house if it’s not where you live. For example, sleepovers, going out for dinner, birthday parties – we have to kind of stop that, convert all discretional social visits or gatherings into virtual format.”
Bridge urged residents, “Don’t visit indoors in other people’s homes,” a message that was followed up later in the day through a letter to the community from Mercer, urging the same caution.
“Keep it to physical distancing outdoor visits, if such visits are essential,” said Bridge.
He said to consider how essential the visit is before allowing someone into your home. Are they emergency personal, fire or police? Do they provide essential support like homecare providers or service providers for things like household renovations, construction service, repairs or housekeeping? Do they provide one-on-on teaching or instruction?
“If service providers are in your home, keep apart in a different room, wear masks etcetera, as much as possible,” Bridge said.
“I would suggest that if we’re going to be around people, and we’re going to be inside, keep everybody with a mask on … We now know, scientists have told us, that both parties wearing a mask protect each other, so it’s very important that we do that.”
Responding to a question from a participant in the interactive session, Bridge addressed the WDGPH practice of breaking the number of COVID-19 cases down by upper tier municipality, rather than by town or township.
“I can tell you that a lot of these cases are up in our area. They’re in our area, and they are in Wellington North, but they are up in this area now. At one time we didn’t know that they were there,” he stated.
However, he added, “we don’t get an actual breakdown.”
Acknowledging some nearby health units provide a breakdown by lower tier municipality, Bridge said Minto council was set to discuss sending a letter to ask WDGPH “why we can’t have that breakdown.”
That evening at the regular Minto Council meeting, a resolution was passed to request that WDGPH share the community locations of positive COVID-19 tests in Wellington County.
Local shopping urged
Economic development manager Belinda Wick-Graham used her segment of the update to encourage residents to continue supporting local business through “this crucial time.
“Now more than ever we’re encouraging you to shop local this holiday season. Our businesses are doing everything they can to provide safe and enjoyable shopping experiences so think Minto first this holiday season.”
Wick-Graham noted gift certificates for local businesses can be purchased through thinkmintofirst.com. Some local businesses are also offering online shopping options, she noted.
“Do what you can to support our local businesses,” added Bridge. “They’ve been great supporters of us over the years.”
Thomson addressed a question on the town’s rationale for its staged opening of arenas, noting decisions to open Palmerston and Harriston arenas, while keeping Clifford’s closed for now were “demand-based.”
The Palmerston arena was opened first in response to a request from Norwell District Secondary School to facilitate the school’s hockey program.
Thomson also noted the Palmerston and Harriston complex’s both included attached community centres which allow for physical distancing of participants entering and exiting the facility.
While the Harriston and Palmerston arenas can handle the current demand for ice time, Thomson said, “Rest assured if the demand for ice goes up we will open Clifford.”
Thompson reminded local residents that anyone needing COVID-19 testing can book by calling 519-843-8160 or online at whcacovid.com for appointments at assessment centres in Harriston and Fergus.