Simcoe Muskoka's medical officer's recommendation to protect community ignored by province & Ford

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Agatha Farmer

During today's Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit press conference Dr. Charles Gardner was asked if he would like to see the Premier of Ontario take a stronger stance on health and safety of the Muskoka community instead of opening the economy in cottage country.

Dr. Gardner said he as gone on public record indicating that he has asked the province to issue a directive prohibiting people form using their secondary homes at this time.

Gardner said he was not privy nor was he invited to the meeting which took place between Muskoka mayors and Premier Doug Ford this week to discuss seasonal resident visitors and the Muskoka community. Perhaps he should have been so that he could have conveyed the following message.

"I believe there is an increased risk of transmission, people come in large numbers from the GTA where the rates of transmission of Covid-19 are about three times higher than they are here. Coming in large numbers into our territory would be a concern, another concern is the potential for them to end up emerging as a case in a remote location having reduced access to health care; another concern would be if you had a large number of cases emerging like that it creates a potential strain on the local healthcare system as well. My advice is that people not come at this time to their secondary residences," said Gardner.

Asked if he had considered a ban like Haldimand-Norfolk County, Gardner said he has reviewed the Norfolk order with his counterpart from that region and came to the conclusion that if Simcoe Muskoka health unit was to issue that order the region "would not have the capacity to enforce it."

"There are some 80,000 secondary resident owners who come to Muskoka and Simcoe and with an order ban only public health has the power to enforce that and we have no resources to make an enforcement of that degree of magnitude. We would not be able to do it on our own. If the province was to issue a directive then police and public health would be able to enforce it. At the end of the day the province needs to make its decision on such things," said Gardner.

Muskoka Post asked Dr. Gardner if Ontario's medical officer of health agrees with his directive of prohibiting people from travel to their seasonal homes.

"I have certainly communicated with him via email, I would have been happy to speak with him as well two weekends ago. He was well aware of the position I was taking he had a difference of opinion from me. He has come out in writing supporting that people should not go to their secondary residences at this time but that there will not be an order or directive to this from the province. He was also recommending against medical officers of health issuing local orders to that end," said Gardner.

When asked why the Ontario's chief medical officer had a differing opinion from that of his, Gardner said following his ask for a provincial directive to prohibit travel to Muskoka he had received questions from Ontario's medical officer pertaining to the degree of the risk. With questions surrounding whether the imposition on peoples rights was warranted by the degree of risk, whether we had evidence on how many people were going to cottage communities at this time and if there was sufficient cooperation so that it would not be necessary to issue an order.

Clearly Premier Ford does not see a risk in travelling to his own cottage as recently made public yet still asked other seasonal residents to do as he said and not visit their secondary homes just not as he did.

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