County of Prince Edward shutters halls, arenas amid COVID-19 pandemic crisis

Picton Town Hall. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

The County of Prince Edward along with the rest of Ontario, Canada and, seemingly, North America is on partial lockdown as a result of a global novel coronavirus pandemic that’s stricken hundreds of thousands across the globe and killed over 7,000 as of Tuesday.

The number of Canadians inflicted with COVID-19, the coronavirus that was first attributed by the World Health Organization to an animal-to-person spillover event at a seafood market in Wuhan, China in December, was over 500 as of Tuesday with four Canadians including one Ontarian having succumbed with the virus.

Both the provincial and federal government have been updating residents daily this week with Premier Doug Ford declaring a ‘State-of-Emergency’ on Tuesday morning, promoting social distancing, telecommuting and simply staying indoors with fellow family members when possible in order to ‘Flatten the Curve’ and limit the outbreak of the contagion.

“We are facing an unprecedented time in our history,” said Premier Ford. “This is a decision that was not made lightly. COVID-19 constitutes a danger of major proportions. We are taking this extraordinary measure because we must offer our full support and every power possible to help our health care sector fight the spread of COVID-19. The health and wellbeing of every Ontarian must be our number one priority.”

As a result of this declaration and its associated orders, the following establishments are legally required to close immediately:

  • All facilities providing indoor recreational programs;
  • All public libraries;
  • All private schools as defined in the Education Act;
  • All licensed child care centres;
  • All bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeout food and delivery;
  • All theatres including those offering live performances of music, dance, and other art forms, as well as cinemas that show movies; and
  • Concert venues.

Further, all organized public events of over fifty people are also prohibited, including parades and events and communal services within places of worship. These orders were approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and will remain in place until March 31, 2020, at which point they will be reassessed and considered for extension, unless this order is terminated earlier.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians travelling abroad to return home and announced that effective Wednesday, Canada will be limiting travel across all borders with exception to Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or US citizens. As part of this process, Canada will limit international travel to 4 airports: Toronto; Montreal; Vancouver; and Calgary.

The Government of Canada’s decision to limit entry is based on the advice of public health officials including Canada’s Chief of Public Health, Dr. Tam. 

Some but not all churches in Prince Edward County have either paused in person worship services or have sourced alternative methods of reaching parishioners such as live streaming.

With the number of probable cases of COVID-19 amassing hourly in the Quinte area, the County of Prince Edward had taken the proactive step of closing all all recreation facilities, museums and town halls Sunday night.

All branches of the Prince Edward County Public Library and Archives were closed to the public as of Tuesday, March 17 to protect residents and staff during the COVID-19 outbreak.

These declarations after the weekend came on the heels of an announcement by Ford and the Ministry of Education to extend the March break by an additional two weeks.

As it stands now, it’s hoped students will resume classes April 6.

The County of Prince Edward’s decision to shutter public buildings and facilities came about on Sunday afternoon as Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) notified municipal leaders Sunday that there are more than 20 “probable” but not yet “confirmed” cases of COVID-19 in the Bay of Quinte region based on symptoms and recent travel.

The number of suspected cases had climbed to upwards of 30 cases as of Monday morning and the latest tally as of press time was over 35.

HPEPH is advising the public that any individuals meeting the following criteria should contact HPEPH at 613.966.5500 for more information and guidance with respect to restrictions and follow up requirements.

According to Quinte News, a person contacted their news room anonymously and stated they had been seen by a physician at Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital. The person provided the news outlet with a copy of a doctor’s note that indicated they had a probable case of Coronavirus and they were to contact HPEPH to follow up.

This quick turn of events necessitated the municipality to take swift action.

“The recent update from HPEPH reinforces the importance of social distancing as well as frequent and thorough hand washing. The time to act is now. We all have a role to play in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 and “flattening the curve,” County of Prince Edward Mayor Steve Ferguson said.

The mayor added the health and well-being of the community remains the municipality’s top priority.

“The municipality continues to take an abundance of caution and do everything it can to help keep residents safe and healthy. Effective immediately, we are closing all recreation facilities, museums and town halls and adding protocols to access municipal customer services at Shire Hall and the Edward Building. We are also making plans to implement social distancing for Council/Committee meetings.We will continue to provide updates to residents as they become available. We appreciate your patience and understanding, said Ferguson.

Out of an abundance of caution for both residents and staff around the COVID-19 pandemic, the municipality is closing all recreation facilities, museums and town halls.

  • The Wellington and District Community Centre and the Prince Edward Community Centre closed to the public as of 5 pm on Sunday, March 15. Use of municipal facilities for community support services will be permitted on a case-by-case basis.
  • All town halls and museums are closed and no social activities or events will be permitted. Call 613.476.6505 if you have questions about your town hall booking.
  • Municipal offices at Shire Hall and the Edward Building remain open at this time. The municipality is undertaking increased cleaning and disinfecting of common contact points in municipal offices to ensure public safety. In addition, the municipality will restrict access within these municipal offices in order to protect staff.
  • You can make a variety of payments and access services online without having to visit a municipal office. Visit the County website for more information https://www.thecounty.ca/make-a-payment-online.
  • If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms, do not enter a municipal facility and contact Customer Service for assistance by calling 613.476.2148 or 613.962.9108 or emailing info@pecounty.on.ca.
  • You can find more information on the County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic here: www.thecounty.ca/county-residents/covid-19.

At a special meeting earlier on Tuesday, Council approved several temporary special measures to facilitate the COVID-19 pandemic response:

Council cancelled  Wednesday’s Committee of Adjustment/Public Planning Council meeting as well as the Council and Committee of the Whole meeting scheduled for March 24 and March 26, respectively.

The next scheduled Council meeting is Tuesday, April 7.