When it comes to reopening municipal facilities and amenities amid the coronavirus pandemic, the City of Peterborough is taking a cautious approach.
All of the city’s arenas are closed until May 31 due to the ongoing pandemic, and at this point, municipal facilities and sports fields are not expected to reopen anytime before that.
“The last thing that anyone wants (is) to reopen early and have a spike in new cases and then you’re back to square one,” said Mayor Diane Therrien.
“End of May is a more likely scenario, although the City of Peterborough doesn’t have a date set. We are following the direction from our medical officer of health, the province and the feds so that we prioritize the safety of our residents.”
Other municipalities, such as the City of Kawartha Lakes, have looked at a soft reopening of some outdoor amenities on May 12, the same day the province’s state of emergency is set to expire should it not be extended.
But the City of Peterborough isn’t looking at that as an option.
“We’re making sure we keep the numbers (of COVID-19 cases) as low as possible, and the longer we can keep them low, the sooner we will be able to reopen again,” said Therrien. “We don’t want to jump the gun on that because that puts us in a precarious position.”
On Monday night, city council met virtually, and it is expected to approve the creation of an economic task force lead by Therrien and Peterborough County Warden J. Murray Jones.
The county approved the task force at its virtual council meeting on Wednesday.
“If businesses reopen too early and we have a spike again, they have to close all over again,” said Therrien. “It’s a terrible situation that nobody wants to be in, but the reality is we’re in it and we have to figure out the smartest way to come out with not only the least amount of human loss but economic loss.
“We’re using this time to prepare for what the path back out will look like. The dates are all uncertain, but at least we can lay that framework and have the conversations to see what businesses need, how we can make sure to rebuild the community, both economically, socially and environmentally, and to ensure we have steps to prepare for — knock on wood — a pandemic like this happens again in the future.”
Therrien said she would like to see task forces dedicated to the local environmental and social impacts from the coronavirus.
“They’re all intertwined. You have people who have been laid off or have mental health issues, but it also ties into the environmental piece because the city also declared a climate emergency a few months back,” added Therrien.
“As we’re coming out on the other side of this unprecedented crisis, how do we bring our economy back to life that we can make sure it’s the most sustainable and resilient it can be, and that means looking at it through that climate change lens.”
When it is time to start reopening facilities, amenities and businesses, Therrien says it will likely be done gradually and with strict physical-distancing measures.
“I don’t think it will be boom and everything is back to normal. What are our programs going to look like? How can we reopen with physical distancing? We’ve heard about the potential of echo spikes in this virus in the fall and around Christmas, so it’s about taking those precautions to not fall back into that square one position,” she said.
On Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the extension of the closure of non-essential businesses to May 6.
Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith has been holding virtual roundtables with businesses during the pandemic.
In his media teleconference on Wednesday, Smith said the province is in the planning phase of opening everything back up again.
“We’re not there yet,” said Smith. “We’re still in that planning phase because we’re looking for ideas from industry and businesses of how they can do things in a responsible manner. I’m not at a point of telling you we will be opening by a certain date or what industries will be opening first.”
At this point, the financial impact of the closures and property tax deferrals on the city is still unknown.
Staff are working on a report detailing those impacts, which will go to council in May.
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