Anxiety over COVID-19 boiling over in Prince Edward County

Tourism is not new in our municipality’s existence.

Long before the late Ed Neuser thought of planting grapes in Waupoos, people were coming to this man-made island for rest and relaxation. Better highways and better maps pushed the tourism dial a few notches.

The transformation of what was pasture land into a white sand beach laden Provincial Park helped the amplification.

Then, the creative rural economy initiative of selling the Prince Edward County experience helped kick things into overdrive. Soon this pastoral plot became a new haven and summertime hangout for every Tom Toronto and Michelle Montréal.

For some full time residents, summers are never easy and now, in the midst of the great COVID-19 pandemic, every unknown face is a potential carrier of this virus. Summertime visitors and those that fell in love with Prince Edward County at first sight will soon be travelling here to open their cottages or summer homes.

There’s no easy way of stopping them save a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases and a full lockdown ordered by Premier Doug Ford. The Premier himself said he can’t hold property owners back from visiting their secondary residences despite Ontario’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams publicly discouraging the practice of Ontarians visiting their cottages and rural properties during the pandemic. Doctor’s orders be damned when the County is calling, apparently.

Summertime residents are one thing. What of the reopening of the Ontario economy and more day trippers making their way here?

As evidenced in our letters section this week, there’s a growing divide as to what should be done regarding the tourism trade in Prince Edward County in 2020.

One letter talks about the economic suicide of a tourist-based accommodation being closed until the end of July. Dire economic times where local business owners will watch their dreams evaporate in a lost tourist season

Another speaks to the health risks of an overcrowded Prince Edward County where interlopers will expose locals (a good section of them immunocompromised) to the virus.

This week’s letters provide a good example of the ongoing life-and-death debate going on in Prince Edward County and other Ontario tourism meccas. Where is the thin strip between where acceptable tourism-driven economic activity that can take place in 2020 and not compromise the health and safety of Ontario’s second oldest community per capita?

Some say open the County up Victoria Day weekend and come what may. Others say keep it closed for safety’s sake for the summer and let the economic chips fall where they may.

There’s not much middle ground in this anxiety-filled, high stakes back-and-forth and it’s not hard to see the community pot boiling over. Already in our community we see social media shaming of drivers with out-of-province licence plates or even licence plate holders from GTA car dealerships. As if County residents only buys cars on the island.

A Pictonian and her daughter were travelling on scooters recently. The pair were practicing speaking en francais as French Immersion can be a difficult to maintain without regular classes. A bystander kindly told them they should return from whence they came and sprinkled in a four-letter word to imply the rate at which they could return to La Belle Province. This is what COVID-19 anxiety is doing to our community.

Prince Edward County residents that don’t have any skin in the tourism game are already on edge. Their daily lives have been upset and altered by COVID-19. They are coping, but an influx of part-timers will add to that anxiety exponentially and, in the age of facial coverings, I worry all the trademark county compassion and grace residents have displayed through the years won’t be enough to mask their fears and concerns about their health and safety in the summer of COVID-19.

Gauging the temperature in the community, it’s not hyperbole to consider empty grocery store shelves and even longer lines might just be enough to push someone over the edge.

These are scary times. No matter the processes of economic ramp ups or roll outs in the coming days, the physical and mental health of Prince Edward County residents must remain paramount in the eyes of decision makers at all levels of government, regardless of the economic cost.

-Jason Parks

PICTURING OUR COMMUNITY 

 

SUPPORTING THE FOOD BANKS ReMax realtors of Prince Edward County presented cheques in the amount of $500 to both the Picton United Church County Food Bank and Storehouse Foodbank last week. Above are agent Kevin Gale and Seona Halsey while below are (From left) Gale, Cynthia Riordon and agent Veronica Norton. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)