Editorial: At what point will the province listen?
Many individuals were once again left shaking their heads as news broke Friday that the province will be moving the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit into the red colour zone in a few days.
They were shaking their heads because they’ve been paying attention to the province’s zoning requirements and know that if Muskoka was being treated fairly, the region would be in the yellow or green zones.
The province indicated an improvement on several fronts – including lower transmission of COVID-19, improving hospital capacity, among others – as to why the lockdown and stay-at-home-orders will be lifted on February 16.
While I’m sure there are those who are happy to see us moving into the red zone again, those with common sense and community interests are looking at it as another case of being dragged down by our southern neighbours.
As of 2 p.m. on Friday, February 12, the health unit was reporting a total of 21 active cases of COVID in Muskoka (four in Huntsville, five each in Bracebridge and Gravenhurst, and seven in Muskoka Lakes). However, some of those are cases which date back to January and should be recovered soon.
There have been only eight new cases in February so far, that’s over 12 days of reporting.
These numbers are among an approximate population of 61,000 (although the next Census will certainly show that number has greatly risen).
What does that have to do with anything? Well, considering the factors involved in getting a yellow zone rating – and a lot less restrictions – is having a weekly incidence rate of 10 to 24.9 per 100,000, and positivity percentage of 0.5 to 1.3 per cent.
There are other thresholds regarding outbreaks, hospital spaces and more. If you do the math and check up on the other indicators, we’re not only easily in the yellow zone, but we’re closer to be in a green zone than we’re being made to believe when put in the red.
This also brings up the prudent point of Muskoka being considered a separate entity from Simcoe during COVID, and perhaps even after the pandemic.
There are many reasons why this should be the case, including geographic and economic similarities with the near north, political affiliations, and more.
Oh, I know I’ve made this point before, but it needs to be reiterated as much as possible because even after this pandemic is over, Muskoka’s elected officials need to ensure our region’s health, education and political maps align with each other.
We can no longer be associated with three separate regions for the most important aspects of our public services: Simcoe for health, Kawartha and Haliburton for the school board, and Parry Sound for our provincial and federal representatives.
What’s funny to me is the number of people who still think Muskoka being attached to Simcoe during the pandemic is a good idea.
Their most common argument against the separation of Muskoka from Simcoe in terms of COVID colour zones is people traveling from more restrictive zones to this region.
Newsflash, they’re already doing that and even circumvented stay-at-home orders to travel here.
Ask anyone who has been to Arrowhead Park for a hike in the last couple of months.
Ask business owners who have had to deal with the most idiotic questions, including one from a couple which wondered if they could sit at a table in a restaurant set up near a window despite signage – and provincial orders – to the contrary.
Ask the local outfitters who are renting equipment to clueless people in the middle of the day.
And the list could go on. The point being, that the argument against having separate colour zones for Simcoe and Muskoka holds no weight whatsoever.
Those who chose to stay at home and be safe will continue to do so, while those who feel that they need to travel will continue to do so.
Red zones, yellow zones, green zones … it doesn’t change the mentality of people; it doesn’t change the fact people have continued to travel to Muskoka from out of region since the first so-called “lockdown.”
It doesn’t change the fact a horde of Panicky Pandemic Property Purchasers (aka quadruple P’s) have sent the real estate market into an unsustainable feeding frenzy.
But what giving Muskoka the appropriate yellow or green rating does do is allow businesses to start digging themselves out of a suffocating financial situation that was thrust upon them.
It allows restaurants to open their doors and employ staff, albeit in a safe manner with proper protocols.
It allows community sports organizations to provide activities to youth and adults, again using proper protocols.
It allows tourists to visit, spend money and not feel like they’re the scourge of the earth for doing so.
It allows us to start feeling like people again by being able to do so many of the things we love to do … and of course we’ll be safe while doing them.
I know Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith recently brought this point up again to the province, along with many other municipal representatives, chambers of commerce, businesses and individuals.
To them I say, keep up the good work and continue to pursue this issue with the province – yesterday, today and in the future. It may not have an immediate affect, but we must at all costs fix this situation.
Muskoka must be treated as the distinct area it is, and not be tossed aside or lumped in with so many different regions that we are constantly fighting battles for our rights on a variety of fronts.
If the current party in charge won’t listen and make the necessary changes, perhaps we need to start thinking about which party will, and let our frustrations be heard the next time we head to the polls.
By Chris Occhiuzzi, for HuntersBayRadio.com