As the COVID-19 situation evolves, cottagers have been heading up north in an effort to self-isolate with their families. As a result, popular cottage country destinations are experiencing a premature swell to their populations ahead of the typical influx on the May long weekend.
While Simcoe Muskoka District Health is requesting people to self-isolate if they have symptoms, they are not dictating where to self-isolate. However, over the weekend, Bracebridge mayor Graydon Smith spoke with Ontario Premier Doug Ford about his concerns over the food supply and healthcare resources in his community due to the early return of seasonal residents.
“The amount of care that can be provided for a small community hospital is limited. We have a limited number of ICU beds and some of those beds are full already with people with other ailments,” Smith explained.
“If you are from another community, and you think you are suffering symptoms then make sure you get yourself looked after but you may well be better to turn to your home community if it has a bigger hospital with more treatment options and ICU beds.”
I want to thank Premier @fordnation for taking some time to speak with me today about the challenges of managing the influx of people to our area during the #COVID19outbreak. We discussed food supply, healthcare resources and snowbirds returning. I appreciate his support.
— Mayor Graydon Smith (@GraydonTheMayor) March 21, 2020
The province has since committed $200-million in funding for municipalities and social services to assist shelters, food banks, emergency services, charities, and hire additional staff. At this time, South Muskoka Hospital Foundation is reporting that while they are well-positioned for the initial influx of patients, the situation could quickly change as the coronavirus runs its course.
They have launched the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund and are urgently appealing to year-round and seasonal residents for additional funds in anticipation of the arrival of COVID-19 patients to the hospital. According to the post on Instagram, the emergency fund will be used to purchase necessary equipment and supplies including three new ICU beds ($45,000 each). Colin Miller, the Foundation’s executive director, points out that many seasonal residents are already back in Muskoka which could place added pressure on hospital resources. Donations are being accepted online, over the phone or by mail.
If you are wondering if you should be going to the cottage to isolate, Natalie Bubela, chief executive officer for Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare, says, “People should make responsible decisions and in doing so should keep in mind that smaller communities have smaller hospitals with fewer beds, staff, physicians, and specialty health services.” She adds that Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare will be challenged to meet the needs of the existing local community, especially if there is an overwhelming increase in the demand for care or services.
When asked if it is better if people should stay put and social distance and self-isolate at home, she advises anyone who has been told to self-isolate because of a risk of COVID-19, to heed the advice and not get in a car and travel around. As for what to do if you get symptoms during self-isolation at the cottage, Bubela advises you to call Telehealth, your care provider, or go to an assessment centre (you can also use this tool for a self-assessment). If you need emergency care, visit the nearest emergency department.
Gravenhurst mayor Paul Kelly took to YouTube to encourage people to practice social distancing.
Food supply has also been a concern in cottage communities. Smith cautions that it is not summertime and the stores that are open have less staff and capacity to deal with surges. He encourages residents not to hoard food.
Please note as this situation is constantly evolving, government directives are subject to change. Check back for updates.