The Region of Niagara has declared a state of emergency that includes all 12 municipalities.
The announcement was made Friday morning, almost two weeks after Lord Mayor Betty Disero declared the town a state of emergency, Monday, March 23. The Province was declared a state of emergency on March 11.
The Region and other municipalities made the declaration “in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 activity in Niagara in the coming weeks,” the announcement says.
Today, April 3, the Niagara Region website is reporting 99 cases of COVID-19, up from seven cases reported March 24.
All levels of government have warned another large jump is expected in the coming weeks, though the numbers could be reduced if the public strictly adheres to imposed limitations such as reducing the number of people gathering, staying home as much as possible and keeping a physical distance while out.
The regional announcement came just hours before the Province announced its projections of expected numbers in future weeks and months, even looking ahead as far as two years, when we could be experiencing second and third waves of the disease. The Province also announced a possible 1,600 deaths Ontario by the end of April if further interventions are not taken — more stringent restrictions could reduce that number to 200 by the end of the month, including further limits to construction.
With the Niagara Region declaration comes options available to protect the health and safety of Niagara residents, Friday’s regional announcement says.
The mayors and regional chair offered a joint statement in the announcement: “The timing of this declaration is imperative as our actions over the next several weeks will determine how well Niagara will fare in the COVID-19 pandemic. This situation represents a real and pressing risk to the health of our community, and we all need to work together to slow the spread of the virus.
“By declaring this emergency together, we are underscoring the critical nature of the situation with everyone in the region. We know most of you are following the guidance of our public health experts, and we offer our sincere thanks. We recognize how hard this time is for everyone, and the sacrifices you are making to practise physical distancing, and even complete isolation in some cases.”
The Region and the mayors also reinforced the message, “as a united Niagara,” to ask everyone who is currently following the directives to keep it up.
“You are making a real difference by slowing the spread of the virus and you are helping to protect the health of your friends, families and neighbours.”
Those who are following the health care message, practising isolation and physical distancing, are also helping to protect healthcare workers, hospital staff and first responders, the announcement says.
“These are the people who are working around the clock to keep us all safe, and we all need to step up and do our part to help keep them healthy.”
Ignoring the order to stay home and practise physical distancing is not negotiable, says the regional announcement. “We are at a tipping point in this pandemic, and everyone needs to get on board – we are all in this together and we need everyone to do their part.”
The question about whether the Region should have declared a state of emergency sooner is “a fair discussion,” says NOTL Regional Coun. Gary Zalepa.
The model of regional and municipal levels of government allows municipalities to make certain decisions that benefit those municipalities, he says.
That includes NOTL having the ability to make the determination of when it was best to declare a state of emergency based on certain conditions, such as the high senior population, and the number of returning travellers, “a situation that seemed to hold greater peril for NOTL than other municipalities.”
It allows local municipalities to make local decisions, and a regional response to be made now, on the advice of the regional public health department, to get ahead of what is expected in coming weeks, he says.
“With the warmer weather approaching, and the Easter holiday coming up,” the regional decision “allows us to get out ahead with the message to be more conscious about social distancing and social isolation,” says Zalepa.
The regional announcement offered “heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the healthcare workers, hospital staff and first responders in our community. You are doing incredible work and putting your health on the line to keep us all safe. We will forever be in your debt.”
Residents, non-profit groups and service clubs were also thanked for helping those in need during difficult times. “We recognize these efforts and encourage those who are helping their neighbours in self-isolation due to age, health or being at a higher risk to keep it up,” the announcement said.
“We ask you to check in on each other with a phone call, email or video chat. Offer to help friends, family and loved ones with groceries if you have to make the trip. If you have family members or neighbours over the age of 70, do what you can to make sure they don’t have to leave the house. And finally, if you have the means, consider making financial donations to your local food banks.”
Directives for Niagara (as of April 3):
Residents are reminded that the following mandatory directives are now in place: • Stop all gatherings of more than five people (this includes private gatherings of extended family) • Avoid all outdoor recreational amenities, including parks, playgrounds, beaches and sports fields • Close all non-essential businesses • Stay home as much as possible and only leave the house once a week if required • Self-isolate for 14 days if you have symptoms or have returned to Canada from being outside the country • Practise physical distancing and wash hands frequently
Enforcing the Emergency Management and Civil Protections Act
Municipalities across Ontario have the power to issue fines to enforce these public health and emergency directives. Failing to comply with an emergency order carries a fine of $750 per offence, and up to $1,000 for obstructing those attempting to carry out their duties under the Act.
Concerns around enforcement should be directed to local municipal bylaw offices. After-hours calls may also be directed to the Niagara Regional Police Service’s non-emergency line at 905-688-4111. Do not call 911.
More information on Niagara’s response to the COVID-19 situation can be found at niagararegion.ca/covid19, or by calling Public Health’s COVID-19 InfoLine at 905-688-8248 (press 7, then press 2).