'It’s a good decision to protect the safety of everybody,' Windsor-Essex reacts to not advancing to Stage 3
WINDSOR, ONT. -- Residents, business owners and politicians are digesting the news that Windsor-Essex is the only region in the province staying in Stage 2 of reopening.
Essex County Warden Gary McNamara says he understands people’s frustration, but also the serious evaluation that was involved in the decision.
“I understand that this is frustrating news for so many small businesses who are struggling to make ends meet and also for residents who desperately long for some sense of normalcy in these disquieting times,” said McNamara in a news release. “Premier Doug Ford had a very difficult decision to make in terms of reopening our economy and he made it with great care, relying on the advice of health officials and case counts in our region.”
McNamara, who is also the chair of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, referenced the rising numbers of cases locally in recent weeks and those cases are not confined to the agri-farm sector.
“There are now significant instances of community spread and workplace outbreaks,” said McNamara. “It is imperative that residents of Windsor-Essex understand that the threat of COVID-19 is still with us.”
There are 30 new cases in the region on Wednesday and two Windsor-Essex residents have died this week related to COVID-19.
Since the first reported case on March 20, the local total has reached 2,275 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1440 people who have recovered. Over 1,000 cases have been reported in the agri-farm sector in Essex County.
“Our case rate was significantly higher, at least six to seven times higher than the provincial average which is a major barrier for us to consider moving forward,” medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said of the decision.
Dr. Ahmed said the health unit wants to see the case rates getting closer to the provincial average, with the understanding there are some case rates increasing due to outbreaks in the agri-farm sector.
He also notes as more businesses have reopened and more people are getting outside the likelihood of close contact increases.
“We have to work together and we have to figure out a way for us to move forward, everyone has to do their part, as the individual, as the workplace, as the community as the leadership, we all have to work together to do our part to contain it,” Dr. Ahmed said.
Essex NDP MPP Taras Natyshak says Windsor-Essex is being held back because Doug Ford didn’t test for COVID-19, didn’t contact trace, and didn’t provide isolation for agricultural workers who were infected.
“The responsibility lies entirely with Doug Ford,” said Natyshak. “His decisions have led directly to this situation. He’s failed to provide the provincial leadership and resources necessary to deal with the public health emergency here in Windsor-Essex, and he’s refused to offer support for local businesses that they need to survive.”
During his news briefing on Wednesday, Ford said he’s doing everything he can to help the region, including extra support. Ford said Friday he is consulting with legal experts to see if mandatory testing of migrant workers can be done.
“It’s everyday families and small business owners who will suffer in a region that’s faced the highest levels of pandemic unemployment anywhere in Ontario,” said Natyshak.
The premier said the province is "throwing everything at this" to take of the people in Windsor-Essex.
"I’m going to go to the wall for them," he said. "Anything I can do we’ll make it happen. I just ask everyone, please have patience. We’re a week behind there and it might take another week but we’ll do everything we can to help them get back on their feet."
Some Windsor-Essex residents have taken a “better safe than sorry” attitude toward the province’s decision.
“As upsetting as it might be for some people, it’s a good decision to protect the safety of everybody,” Alana Palameta told CTV News.
“If the cases are going to go up it’s going to put more people at risk and ultimately the hard work we’ve been doing, staying social distancing since March, it would all be a waste and we’d have to do it all over again,” Alex Popovski said.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said while the decision was “tough” for the premier and chief medical officer of health, the region's numbers aren’t “going in the right direction,” to warrant a move into Stage 3.
“If I’m looking at this as the mayor, of course, I want to see this move forward and I want to see businesses survive and thrive and get back open," he said. "But we can’t do that and risk moving completely backwards to a Stage 1 position perhaps if we do things too quickly no one wants to see that happen."
Dilkens said the quickest way to ensure the region moves forward is for people to work together and continue to follow the guidelines that have been in place for months, people to act “like we’re in Stage1.”
“They’re trying to move us forward in a very methodical, sensitive way and the best thing we can do to get from Stage 2 to Stage 3 is continue to follow all the advice, keep your distance, wear a mask, isolate where you can and wash your hands a lot,” he said.
Stage 3 includes the reopening of gyms, indoor dining at bars and restaurants and many facial services. The size of gatherings moves to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.