As non-essential businesses reopen, carefully, and restaurants don’t, it’s been a difficult few days for many.
There was some confusion at first initially about what opening in grey meant, for businesses and individuals, and once the answers became evident, they weren’t all what we wanted to hear.
Last week restaurant owners were excited, reaching out to staff about hours, some ordering food, getting their dining rooms spruced up and ready to open this week.
Then, a rude awakening: there would be no opening for restaurants, or for those anxious for a meal out.
Nor has there been any lifting of restrictions regarding families staying with their own households. Some were thinking the stay-at-home order might change, maybe allowing for a bubble. No bubbles for Niagara.
The anger and frustration of restaurant owners and staff is understandable as they suffer through this pandemic, likely feeling very alone, but as one person after another, from the prime minister down to local politicians, and even disappointed members of the hospitality industry have said, the comments, threats and questioning of Dr. Mustafa Hirji’s motives were not acceptable, not in any context.
That has been said repeatedly, and Dr. Hirji’s gracious response to his supporters, and the empathy and kindness he displayed in his replies to his attackers, is an indication of how fortunate the Niagara Region is to have him.
He didn’t get off lightly at Tuesday’s public health committee meeting with regional councillors. He was questioned extensively on vaccinations, on colour-coded restrictions, on consideration for the economy, on sustainable reopening, variants of concern and preparedness for a third wave. It’s obvious councillors have their own concerns, and were looking for assurances that their chief medical officer of health is on top of all these very worrisome issues, for their own peace of mind and to pass on to their constituents.
One over-riding question was regarding communication. Some regional councillors seem to feel they’re being kept out of the loop. However, given the opportunity to ask questions, they were provided the answers, and there is another update coming on Friday, apparently a regular every-other week virtual meeting. Some of the answers, it seemed, councillors could have discovered for themselves, but they apparently want them straight from the top public health official. Chances are after today, those answers may be supplied before being released to the public and the media. Can’t help but think a very busy man trying to save lives is about to become a whole lot busier.
Since we’re talking about essential businesses and reopening — or not — I’d like to share with our readers how the staff at The Local has been working through recent lockdowns.
Newspapers are considered essential, but going back to last March, we chose to impose restrictions on ourselves. We’re a very small staff, and decided we could all work at home. We discovered the benefits to that pretty quickly, and like many others, have learned lessons about how we can operate more efficiently in the future.
We have not been in our office on a regular basis since then, instead being available by phone or email.
In the summer, the owner from whom we rented our office sold the building. Since it’s in a pretty visible location, on Four Mile Creek Road, right across from the town hall, many of you may have noticed that it’s gone through a transformation, and is looking quite different these days.
As part of the renovations, and the exterior face-lift, our sign was removed, and we know by the questions we’re asked that some people wonder if we still have an office, or where we’ve gone.
We hope to have a new sign soon, and yes, we’re still there. By the time we had made the decision to begin using the office again last September, it was in the middle of a construction zone. We had no parking, it was extremely noisy, and there were other ongoing issues. Then, we were into another lockdown, and even essential workers were being asked to stay home, and stay off the roads, so we continued to do what we had been doing all along.
When I look back at the changes since last March, I can trace the differences in our reactions in response to what we were learning about COVID-19. The earliest lessons were about physical distancing, washing our hands and refraining from touching our faces. Those are so ingrained in us now that we will likely continue to practise them unconsciously long after this pandemic is over.
Although at first there was some controversy about the value of masks, many in Niagara-on-the-Lake were wearing them before they were mandated, and this town was one of the first municipalities to make them mandatory, the region following suit some time later.
At that point, I was still doing some in-person interviews, and meeting with people for photos. I would wear a mask, but began to become fearful I might be putting others in danger needlessly.
Since then, I’ve learned to ask people to send photos, and am doing as asked — staying at home, staying off the roads. Safer for all of us. The photos are different from the great front page pictures we used to count on, mostly from one of the many events that marked the progression of the seasons in NOTL. Instead, now they tell the story of a time we’ll look back on as being different for all of us, as reflected in the pages of a community newspaper.
However, we all miss meeting with people, making those personal connections, through work, for some of us, with volunteer activities, at events that are no longer being held, but even more so, with family. We all miss family dinners, sharing birthdays and other celebrations, and supporting each other through some difficult times.
While we are all working together to get through this pandemic, helping each other in any way we can, it’s worth a reminder that apart from our shared COVID-related restrictions, many people are dealing with difficult issues we don’t know about, with loved ones in long-term care, or health problems that have become so much more difficult in these times, and of course the mental health issues that become even more problematic when suffering in isolation.
There is anger out there, no doubt about it. From business owners and employees who are suffering, and who are not getting the financial support they need from upper levels of government to get through this latest shutdown, and are also now concerned about a third wave. And from individuals, who see some businesses opening but no loosening of restrictions for us as families, who are still being told we can’t see our loved ones, celebrate with them, or hug them, unless we live with them. We want to be safe, and to keep others safe, but we’ve had enough, missed out on too much.
Anger is understandable, and we shouldn’t judge those who lash out, not knowing the whole story about what might be behind it. But it’s also not productive. It won’t change the rules or make them any easier to follow.
By following them, we help to get through this a little quicker, get back to our lives a little sooner.
And instead of attacking those who are in the very difficult position of making the necessary decisions to keep us safe, whether we agree or not, we need to understand they are performing a very difficult balancing act on our behalf. Whatever their jobs or expertise, they didn’t sign up for this pandemic, for these decisions, and they are doing their best to get us through it. Let’s all do what we can to help them make that happen.