To open Monday’s virtual, phone-in council meeting, live-streamed to the public, Lord Mayor Betty Disero reinforced her message to a community at risk, with its aging population, “and the impact to our community if we contract the virus.”
By Tuesday, our corner of the world had changed again, giving her plea new meaning.
By Tuesday, the Niagara Health System was reporting 67 total cases, up from 34 reported Monday, as well as four deaths, three more than the day before. There had been 18 COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital, and 13 were still being treated.
The message from Disero and interim CAO Sheldon Randall released late Tuesday afternoon asks us not to forget “each of these numbers represents a life. There is no time for hesitation or waivering. Niagara-on-the-Lake has taken a firm stance by declaring a State of Emergency, and it is vital that we all work together, doing whatever possible to flatten the curve, and control the potential spread of COVID-19. We cannot stress enough the importance of self-isolation, physical distancing and staying home whenever possible.”
Monday evening, Disero had explained her declaration of the town’s state of emergency was “a call to action,” to ensure the community, particularly those returning home from travel, understand the importance of taking measures to stop the potential for spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Over the past two weeks, said Disero, the Town has closed facilities, reorganized staff, including the fire department, and fitted staff to be able to work from home. The facilities still being operated are continually cleaned, and phones answered “to residents and business who are concerned, in trouble or in need of help.”
Staff have not yet been laid off, Disero said, although seasonal contract workers have had their starting dates suspended, with full-time staff doing the added work of seasonal contract workers.
“Our staff continue to be very productive, working from home on reports and files that they have been backlogged on for months,” said Disero. The financial impact of laying off staff could be even greater down the road, if they have to work overtime to catch up, she said.
During Monday’s meeting, Disero thanked the public for their patience and their cooperation, saying those who are staying home, and keeping a physical distance when out, are helping to stop the potential spread of the virus. She also thanked the hotels who have cancelled or rebooked clients to a later date.
And Tuesday, she sent condolences on behalf of the residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake, town council, and staff, to the family, friends, and loved ones as they deal with this tragic loss.
To those first responders and health professionals on the frontline, making personal sacrifices to help deal with the impacts of COVID-19, she expressed gratitude and respect.
“To those of you who are not following the recommendations and pleas from all levels of government to stay home, or practising physical distancing,” she said, “I am begging you at this point to stay home for the sake of our community. To be proactive now, will be the only saving grace we have as we go through this. If you are bringing new people into NOTL now, even for a weekend, you are putting this community at risk. Shame on you. The Province has asked everyone to stay away from cottage country and rural areas. Please adhere to the statements from the Province.”
To a question from Coun. Allan Bisback Monday, regarding guests at short-term rentals last weekend, Randall said the Town is “continuing to sort this out,” and would be updating council with its plan.
The announcement Tuesday said new provincial legislation authorizes municipal bylaw enforcement officers to enforce Emergency Management and Civil Protections Act orders. “This better positions the Town to ensure that the orders set out by the Provincial government are adhered to.”
Town planning director Craig Larmour said Monday he is still trying to ascertain whether short-term accommodation rentals are considered essential services by the Province.
The next weeks will be a crucial time, said Disero, noting the significant jump of cases.
“We must assume it is getting very close to our own community. We just stay home and physically distance ourselves from others. And for those people that are not following these guidelines – we cannot regulate stupidity,” she said, again asking residents to “stay home, keep our distance and be healthy.”
Response from the Town regarding discrepancies in numbers:
The number we used is from NHS. According to their site…
“The Niagara Health data reflects hospital activity as of 9:45 a.m. each day.
The confirmed positive cases comprise tests Niagara Health has performed on our inpatients, and on patients we see in our Emergency Departments, Urgent Care Centres, and at our COVID-19 assessment centres. The assessment centre tests patients who are seen by referral only through Niagara Region Public Health.
As of today at 9:45 a.m., we have 75 confirmed positive cases. Of those, 15 are currently inpatients in the hospitals.
The discrepancy in numbers between Niagara Health and Niagara Region Public Health is likely to continue due to several factors. We regret any confusion this may cause.
Niagara Region Public Health reports only results pertaining to Niagara residents, while Niagara Health reports all activity regardless of the patient’s residency.
There have been four deaths of patients (three Niagara residents and one resident from the Dunnville area) who were in our care and being treating for COVID-19.
Two of the confirmed positive cases reported in today’s Niagara Health data are residents from outside Niagara. All other confirmed positive cases are Niagara residents.
Following a review of our data, we identified the over-reporting of 16 confirmed positive cases and these have been removed from today’s count. However, we still have 14 more confirmed positive cases today than being reported by Public Health.
The discrepancy is due to several factors, including the fact that Niagara Region Public Health receives test results of Niagara residents who are tested outside of our region. Niagara Health does not receive these test results and therefore does not include them in our count.
In addition, the timing of the collection of test results from Public Health Ontario varies for each organization and is a significant contributing factor. Each organization receives and inputs test results separately and at different times, and the data changes rapidly. While our reports are generated at approximately the same time each day, the data in the reports is based on what has been inputted by each organization at that point in time.
We understand and respect the media and community’s interest in information related to COVID-19 activity in Niagara. Our goal of this daily reporting is part of our commitment to be transparent, acknowledging the ever-evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.”