“First off, we’re upset that we were not consulted. Second of all, we’re upset because it’s a poor decision without any basis of support,” Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati told Global News.
As of Friday at 12:01 a.m., 34 public health units will transition into a stage that will allow Ontarians to gather in groups of 10 — up from the previous five — and go to places of worship, hairdressers, barbers, restaurant patios and more outdoor spaces with physical distancing measures in place.
However, a number of regions in Southern Ontario — including Hamilton, St. Catharines, Burlington, and Niagara Falls, along with Haldimand and Norfolk counties — were deemed to have not met the province’s benchmarks for the next phase and will not be entering Stage 2 until further notice.
“As we continue to monitor local trends, every Monday, the province will provide a progress report on the public health units remaining in the first stage,” said Ontario’s minister of health Christine Elliot.
“If public health indicators improve at a local level, regions will be given the green light to enter stage two that following Friday.”
Diodati says the number of new coronavirus cases in his city have flattened out and that if the province is waiting for Niagara Falls daily cases to hit zero, “that’s unrealistic.”
“So we’re saying we get it. We understand it. We’ve been living with this. So help us to understand why I can go to Walmart along with 400 other people, and that’s safe, yet I can’t have 35 people on a patio at a bar,” said Diodati.
Diodati says his argument is based on recent numbers from Niagara region public health that show the city’s active cases per capita are below a number of other cities in the region with smaller populations like Grimsby and Lincoln.
“We’re at least middle of the pack. Our numbers were very good considering the amount of people that visit us here, even though everything’s closed, we still get significant crowds coming to Niagara Falls,”
Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt said the province’s decision to keep his region in ‘stage one’ was a “surprise.”
Since last Tuesday, Haldimand Norfolk’s health unit has recorded just 13 cases of COVID-19 equating to less than two cases a day. The outbreak at Anson Place and Scotlynn Farms accounts for 164 and 70 cases, respectively, for a total of 234 of the two regions’ 397 positive cases since the pandemic began.
“Yesterday was an outright slap in the face,” said Hewitt. “Today there are the ‘have’ and the ‘have not’ and I do not think in the spirit of everyone working together this meets that criteria.”
In the province’s update on Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford singled out Hewitt and Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp saying their county’s numbers simply didn’t measure up to province’s standards.
“I understand that a big chunk of that was migrant workers,” said Ford. “But still, when, you know, the numbers shoot up, our medical team, we have no choice.”
A number of mayors along the Greater Golden Horseshoe are telling a similar story on how they learned their communities would not be advancing to Phase 2 — via Doug Ford’s daily COVID-19 update on Monday.
“The province did not consult with the city in any way. We learned about this at the same time everyone else did,” said St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik who was disappointed with Monday’s announcement.
“Reopening the economy is critical for our local businesses, many of which are small and medium businesses that are feeling financial pressure,” Sendzik said.
Both Diodati and Hewitt say they also were not formally notified by the province in advance of the announcement.
“Yesterday’s announcement from the Ford government, however, comes as a surprise for several reasons. In particular, we had no discussions as Mayors of the region; our local CMO was not involved in any discussions surrounding the merits of opening or not,” said Hewitt.
Ford responded to the two mayors’ comments during his presser on Tuesday, saying as far as he knew they were told by the ministry of health.
“I asked specifically, was everyone contacted? The answer I got was yes,” said Ford. “We’re all in this together, so it’s not time to be finger-pointing.”
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed-Ward says she and her counterparts in Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville have written to the premier very politely asking to be allowed to proceed to phase two and reopen based on the region’s health numbers they say are better than most health units in Ontario.
“We only have 91 active cases right now in Burlington. We have no institutional outbreaks,” said Meed-Ward, “And you compare in terms of infections per 10,000 people were at 10. You compare that to the provincial average, is 26, where we’re half the provincial average and it’s far higher in Peel and in Toronto.”
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said the announcement on Monday was not a surprise to him saying the city was consulted by the province through its connection with the Mayors and Chairs of the GTHA municipalities group.
“I’m not in disagreement time with the direction the premier’s taken,” said Eisenberger. “As much as I would love to say that let’s open up today everything so we can get back to some normal, there’s a reason for caution in some of the higher density areas for sure.”
Eisenberger says despite the decision, he’s confident Hamilton and some of the other municipalities are probably only “a week” away from moving to Stage 2.
“We’ll get a clearer indicator for the next level of openings for the higher, more congested GTHA communities.”
Diodati hopes that will be the case saying about 80 percent of Niagara Falls economy comes from summer months between June and September.
“We live in a seasonal tourist industry in Niagara Falls, said Diodati. “And if you don’t make hay while the sun’s out, you don’t make hay. Period. You don’t have the luxury or the option of waiting.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
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