Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, has joined Ontario Premier Doug Ford in urging seasonal residents to stay in the city.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many municipalities have declared a state of emergency and are encouraging people to self-isolate in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. In some cottage country locations, mayors had been discouraging people from travelling to their cottages several days before Ford held the conference.
“Our main message is to stay put,” said Luke Charbonneau, mayor of Saugeen Shores in Bruce County, which is among the towns that have declared in a state of emergency.
“That means we are asking those who might be planning a trip to the cottage in the coming days to please postpone those plans. We are also telling our residents not to travel anywhere themselves. Now’s the time to stay put, not to travel.”
The reason, Charbonneau explained, is to minimize the strain on local medical resources.
“The strong urgings from health and government authorities has been to protect the healthcare system,” he said. “It’s to reduce the number of cases, but also, so health agencies, which are under a lot of pressure, can know who is here so that they can be prepared. If we have large numbers of people moving around the province that’s going to be a strain on healthcare everywhere.”
Ford echoed this message when he spoke to reporters Friday.
“[The hospitals] don’t have the capacity we do in urban settings, and as they all say, ‘We’re going to welcome you with open arms when we get through this,’ but right now it’s putting a lot of strain on their system out there,” Ford said.
While some, like Charbonneau, have been delivering this message for days, prior to Ford’s remarks, other mayors seemingly disagreed. Among them was mayor Andy Letham of Kawartha Lakes.
Prior to Ford’s remarks, Letham told Cottage Life he did not see an issue with cottagers seeking refuge at their “own properties”.
The municipality of Kawartha Lakes has a population of 75,000 year-round residents and hosts 30,000 seasonal residents each summer.
Mayor Letham said he is understanding of people seeking a quieter and more remote location to self-isolate during the current crisis—especially as warmer weather approaches.
“Seasonal residents have always been a great big part of our local economy in our community. It’s their property, so I’m of the mindset, even though it may be different than most, that they’re welcome.”
He also noted that Kawartha Lakes is home to many senior residents who often fly south for the winter.
“We have a lot of people, specifically seniors, coming back from Florida as well, but you can’t tell them they can’t come back to their home for the summer,” he said. “We are following the guidelines the province has enacted and they have to self-isolate and take the same precautions. We’re trying to prevent the spread of this as best we can.”
Letham said there has been one death due to COVID-19 in the Kawartha Lakes region. He said there are currently about 20 confirmed coronavirus cases in the community as well as a potential outbreak at a local nursing home. They officially declared a state of emergency Tuesday.
While mayors Letham and Charbonneau had differing opinions on whether seasonal residents should be welcomed to their cottages during the crisis, one thing they did agree on was the rarity of a public health emergency situation like this.
“Asking people not to come here is not a message I ever thought I’d have to deliver—and I really don’t like saying it—but these are exceptional times and this is an emergency situation,” Charbonneau said.
“Hopefully soon this will all be over and we can go back to normal, and when the emergency is over, we want them back. We love them.”