Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith is asking the province to differentiate Muskoka from Simcoe County as the Ford government talks about loosening COVID-19 restrictions in certain areas over the coming weeks.
The district of Muskoka falls under the jurisdiction of the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit, meaning any COVID-19 restrictions applied to Simcoe County also apply to Muskoka.
“The outbreaks that are occurring—which are tragic—in certain parts of Simcoe County,” Smith says, “are not happening here.”
With just under 200 positive cases, Muskoka makes up 3.5 per cent of the health unit’s total cases, compared to Simcoe County’s 5,600.
As a result, Smith says he doesn’t think Muskoka should be subjected to the same restrictions as Simcoe County. “The request is to look at things differently within the health unit. Consider a level of micro targeting so that areas are placed within the framework appropriate to what’s actually happening in their community and not what’s happening somewhere else,” he says.
He points out that unlike urban centres, such as Toronto, where the infrastructure is sprawling and communities and people overlap, Muskoka and Simcoe are made up of small pockets of communities, often separated by vast distances.
For example, within the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit’s jurisdiction, Bracebridge, which has recorded 37 positive cases throughout the pandemic, is approximately 100 km northeast of Barrie, which has recorded the health unit’s highest number of cases at 1,922.
“Health unit borders are artificially established borders that represent a delivery area for public health,” Smith says. These borders shouldn’t dictate how COVID-19 restrictions are doled out, he adds.
Smith’s plea to differentiate the two areas is in response to Ontario’s stay-at-home orders, which have forced local businesses and restaurants to either temporarily close or convert to curbside pick-up. “The best stimulus package for businesses is being open,” Smith says. “If that can be accommodated within the framework of staying safe, that’s all we’re asking for.”
According to Smith, the provincial government has shown a lot of empathy about the situation but little action. He also adds that Charles Gardner, the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit’s medical officer of health, doesn’t support the idea.
“We’re not trying to be renegades. We’re not trying to be ignorant of the public health crisis and the pandemic that’s going on,” Smith says. “We’re just saying that from a perspective of managing this, is there a way to look at it that will allow more flexibility for communities that aren’t as impacted?”