'There will be plenty of long weekends to come,' Ford says following call with cottage country mayors
Published Thursday, May 7, 2020 7:52AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 7, 2020 1:52PM EDT
Premier Doug Ford has moderated his stance on Ontarians heading to their cottages for the Victoria Day long weekend in the wake of a “productive call” with a number of cottage country mayors.
Ford had previously said that he couldn’t “hold taxpayers back from going to their cottages” indefinitely and saw no “massive issue” posed by some doing so for the May long weekend so long as they brought their own supplies.
But in a statement released on Thursday, Ford said that “we need to stay vigilant” and continue to avoid nonessential travel “as much as possible.”
“I know Ontarians are eager to enjoy the great outdoors, but there will be plenty of long weekends to come,” he said. “Right now, we need to focus on doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of all Ontarians. We’re all in this together and together we will beat COVID-19.”
CP24 has previously spoken to several cottage country mayors who have expressed concerned about an “explosion” in their populations once the cottage season begins and what effect that could have on the spread of COVID-19.
The mayors have also said that the relatively low number of intensive care unit beds in their largely rural communities would make widespread transmission of the virus potentially devastating.
“From my perspective seeing our businesses thrive and seeing our local economy grow again I would like to say tomorrow (that cottage-goers can return). I would like to say that we are open for business as I am sure would every other mayor,” Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt, who was among those participating in the call with Ford, told CP24 on Thursday. “But the challenge of course is ensuring that we don’t have that second wave and that we don’t lose the whole summer.”
While most mayors have simply warned cottage-goers to stay away, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit has actually issued an order forbidding anyone whose primary residence is located outside the region from visiting their seasonal properties.
It has also threatened violators of the order with fines of up to $5,000.
“There is no gradual reopening. When it is seasonal, whether it is cottagers, boaters or migrant workers, it is zero to a thousand overnight in our small communities and that becomes a challenge,” Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp said during a subsequent interview with CP24. “You know we have one hospital that has one ICU bed and one ventilator so we don’t have a big margin for error.”
While Ford’s statement does say that “seasonal residents” can travel to their cottages so long as they “practice the same public health measures as usual,” it represents a change in tone from earlier this week when he warned people in cottage country to “be prepared because people are coming up on May 24.”
It is also more in line with a memo that Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams sent to his counterparts in which he asked them to continue to “discourage” visits to the cottage but said no formal order would be issued to enforce the advice.
“I know many of you are anxious to know if people will be allowed up to their cottages in these unprecedented times. We don’t want to create a situation where your healthcare system is overburdened or even your grocery stores are overburdened but we also know theta the cottage season is a big, big economic driver,” Ford told the mayors during Wednesday’s call. “We want to find ways to make it safe for the people to go up and enjoy their cottage while respecting public health measures. Health and safety trumps everything.”
In his statement, Ford said that while cottage country residents would normally welcome tourists “with open arms,” they are asking visitors to “hold off” on flocking to their communities for now.
“My message to people is if you have to go to the cottage and check on things bring your own supplies and just follow the rules,” he said Thursday. “There is going to be many more weekends that you can go up there and have a good time but right now please just respect the rules.”