By Tammy Schneider
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On May 13, the premier announced that the current stay-at-home order had been extended until at least June 2, another two weeks past the original end date of May 20. All public health and workplace safety measures under the province-wide emergency brake will also remain in effect.
The extended order means at least an additional two weeks of curbside pick-up and delivery only for most retailers and restaurants. Golf courses, fitness centres, hair salons and esthetics salons remain closed, as they have since Apr. 3.
“The extended shutdown just adds to the impact this pandemic is having on our downtown businesses and the considerable loss of revenue for most of them, especially our personal care services like our hairdressers, barbers, fitness clubs, etc.,” said Rick Clarke, downtown development manager, Kincardine BIA. “We want to encourage everyone to continue to support these businesses in any way they can such as purchasing products at their door or buying gift certificates for future use. They need revenue now to pay their fixed costs.”
Ashley Richards, executive director of the Kincardine and District Chamber of Commerce, says the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is taking a proactive role in advocating for business in the province and passing concerns on to the province.
“The loss for revenue for our local businesses as this lockdown continues has been devastating,” said Richards. “The grants, loans and subsidies that have been made available are not nearly enough of a buffer, particularly for those sectors who have been completely shuttered. The Ontario Chamber is hosting a roundtable with the Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction after concerns were raised related to the Small Business Grant. Advocating for our members has been more important than ever and is an ongoing process.”
“We understand that the public is fatigued from ever changing messaging from the Provincial Government as it relates to COVID. We urge everyone to continue to shop local, and to support our business community as much as possible, as we wait for a return to normalcy.”
The reasoning behind the extension, according to the chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, is the new, more contagious variants continue to pose significant risks.
“Thanks to the collective efforts of the residents of Huron – Bruce in following public health and workplace safety measures, we continue to make considerable progress in our fight against COVID-19,” said Huron Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson. “However, key public health indicators remain high and we must stay the course. Extending the Stay-at-Home Order to June 2 is essential to controlling the third wave and safeguarding health system capacity while we continue to quickly vaccinate more Ontarians.”
Between May 2 and 8, the provincial cases rate decreased by 14.8 per cent, with the positivity rate also decreasing to 7.7 per cent compared to 8.6 per cent the previous week. From May 5 to 12, the number of patients with COVID-related critical illness in intensive care decreased from 877 to 776.
Despite these improvements, key indicators remain high and more time is required before the province can safely lift the stay-at-home order. From May 3 to 9, the provincial cases rate remained very high at 134.9 cases per 100,000 people, and per cent positivity was above the high alert threshold of 2.5 per cent. Hospitalization and ICU admissions also remain too high and well above the peak of wave two.
The province says the impacts of these measures will continue to be evaluated over the coming weeks, with consideration being made to the reopening of outdoor recreational amenities on June 2, subject to current trends continuing.
Richards says the Kincardine Chamber has been working with the Ontario Chamber, and governments at the provincial and federal level to provide free Covid-19 rapid antigen test kits to businesses with less than 150 employees.
“To date, over 850,000 tests have been released through over 40 Chambers across Ontario. The Provincial Antigen Screening Program allows employers in priority settings to add an additional safety measure in high-risk and essential workplaces, to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Through the program, rapid antigen point-of-care tests (POCTs) will be distributed to organizations in priority settings, to enhance existing routine screening measures for asymptomatic employees and other identified groups. Rapid antigen POCTs may allow for workplaces to proactively identify cases of COVID-19covid 19 that may have otherwise been missed, supporting employee safety and business continuity in a variety of workplaces.”
She continued on to say that “until we receive different direction from Dr. Arra, the Kincardine & District Chamber of Commerce is directing businesses interested in pursuing testing for the employees (to) order tests for pick up from the Owen Sound Chamber of Commerce.”
Businesses under 150 employees can order the tests via https://www.oschamber.com/newsarticle/26/. Essential businesses can order tests through the province at https://covid-19.ontario.ca/provincial-antigen-screening-program.
All publicly funded and private elementary and secondary schools in the province will continue to operate under teacher-led remote learning. Data is to be assessed on an ongoing basis and medical experts, including the chief medical officer of health, and other health officials will be consulted to determine if it may be safe to resume in-person learning.