“I’m quite frankly quite worried that a lot (of businesses) won’t survive this,” Bracebridge’s Mayor Graydon Smith tells the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom as the region enters the first day of its second lockdown in as many months.
He says he spoke with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner Saturday ahead of his Sunday press conference to give an update on the lockdown.
Smith says there’s a “number of factors” he wants decision-makers like Dr. Gardner to look at. “There are individual circumstances and individual communities and Health Units that cover a vast geography – such as the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit – and have a lot of different communities within them,” he says, adding that he’s concerned about using a “blunt instrument” like putting everywhere into lockdown.
Dr. Gardner did not indicate Sunday when the new lockdown may end, only saying the emergency brake was pulled at his recommendation. “I would hope it would be as absolutely short a duration as possible since we’re already into it,” Smith says. He adds the province usually reviews the COVID-19 measures on a two-week cycle but hopes that’s done sooner this time around.
On the topic of separating the District of Muskoka’s COVID-19 data from Simcoe County’s, Dr. Gardner said he’s concerned about people from other regions that may be in lockdown – such as Barrie – travelling to Muskoka. “There are people that travel up and down the highway every day,” Smith says in response, adding even people from the Greater Toronto Area would come to the area. “I’m not saying that’s a great thing,” he says. “What I am saying is that it hasn’t manifested in major outbreaks or difficulty for this area in terms of the case numbers.”
Smith says it’s not likely someone from Barrie would travel to a place like Gravenhurst or Bracebridge to have dinner or get a haircut. He believes it’s more like they would go somewhere in the York region where there’s more to do. “I’m just trying to apply a little bit of how humans think and function into the conversation,” he adds. “I think it’s unlikely people will flood into an area with a relatively small economy because they can’t get something in their own region.”
An on-going issue in our region has been the high COVID-19 numbers in Simcoe County but the lower-by-comparison numbers in the District of Muskoka. Smith has been in favour of separating the two regions when reporting the numbers. He notes that SMDHU already breaks down the coronavirus numbers by different municipalities. “It provides an opportunity to look at an area separate from the whole,” he adds. Smith suggests using a micro-targeting system. “I’m not suggesting that we get down to doing this on a town or township level necessarily, but there are defined regions and pockets within the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit that could be looked at differently,” he says. Smith acknowledges this would be more work for Health Units, but times are different.
“There is a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.
Smith says he’s brought up the idea in the past four months since the province released its COVID-19 reopening framework. “It wasn’t difficult to see a situation – because it was already occurring – where case counts were higher in the south end of a Health Unit region than in the north,” he explains.
“On the political side it’s been thought about, but at the same time it feels like public health are the real drivers of decision making right now and at least current thinking is that they don’t want to do that,” Smith says, adding he’s not sure if that is coming from higher up on the public health food chain, or locally.
“Business owners are incredibly upset,” he says. Smith points out that some businesses have not had a chance to make money since Christmas. “For businesses that already had an impaired 2020 due to COVID-19 and the pandemic, this makes it incredibly hard,” he says, noting that many businesses live off what they make in the summer. “And the little bit they can make through the winter months is necessary to sustain all the way to the next busy season,” he adds.
Smith says he understands why some people may think their only option is to defy COVID-19 protocols. “If their choice is being gone forever, or opening up to try and get some revenue to same themselves, maybe you’re going to see that choice play out in a way that doesn’t follow public health advice,” he says. Smith adds that he believes we should be following the advice given to us by health officials but can see how people are frustrated with the often-changed protocols. “People do become less likely to follow public health advice or any advice related to this because they’re just as the end of their rope,” he says.