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'Reckless, selfish' seasonal residents strongly urged to stay away

“I am angry that reckless, selfish weekenders are allowed to come to my area which could result in a possible lockdown," Midland resident says.

Another weekend likely brings another batch of cottagers to the region, despite repeated call for them to stay home.

And that decision to flout the plea from all levels of government and health officials has some area residents none too pleased.

“I am angry that reckless, selfish weekenders are allowed to come to my area which could result in a possible lockdown,” said Midland resident Irene Roche, who noted she has been self-isolating for a month.

“The people who may cause an increase in sickness and death should be restricted, not those of us being responsible," she added. 

Roche, 78, said many people are respecting the social-distancing guidelines and stay-at-home protocols.

“I cancelled my family's Easter dinner and spent the weekend alone. Prior to Easter weekend, local municipalities were asking people not to come north ... they did ... but they could have at least self-isolated at their cottages.”

Area grocery stores are also seeing an increase in the number of cottagers ignoring official recommendations.

“They were all here last weekend and didn’t seem to care,” said a Midland grocery store clerk, adding local residents are finding some shelves empty because stores are not carrying enough stock to deal with the sudden and unexpected influx of people.

“They don’t think it’s a big deal, but we don’t have the same demand and resources as a city. As well, I worry about how our hospital will cope if we have an outbreak with them all here," the clerk added. 

In Orillia, meanwhile, Costco employees also noted there seem to be a noticeable increase in the number of Toronto-area residents stopping by these days to load up before continuing on to their cottages.

The province, health officials, the County of Simcoe and Tiny Township have all issued pleas with cottagers to remain at the primary residence until the pandemic is over.

Tiny Township Deputy Mayor Steffen Walma said that while the municipality understands that Tiny is a second home for many, local resources are limited at this time.

“We’ve had a lot of (seasonal) residents reach out, saying ‘we’ll bring our own groceries up and if we get sick we’ll go back home',” Walma said.

But he cautioned that wouldn’t be the case if one suffered a heart attack or another acute injury, but would undoubtedly head to nearby Georgian Bay General Hospital for treatment.

“You’re still going to be using hospital resources,” he said. “Hospitals are also resourced from your provincial dollars based on your primary residence.”

As well, Walma pointed out that 55 per cent of the province’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have originated in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

“The virus doesn’t move, people move,” he said, noting that it could hasten the virus’s spread to the region. “If you’re going back and forth to the cottage, you’re not staying home.”

As an example of staying home, Walma noted that while he only lives 10 minutes away from his mother, he didn’t see her over the Easter weekend because they’re both respecting the social-distancing rules.

Fellow area resident Gerry Duffy said he’s noticed a “horrendous” difference in the amount of traffic on area roads over the past few weeks.

“The grocery stores, drug store and parking lots in Midland have been jammed ... busier than even on the eve of long weekends in summer,” he said, adding that he’s not “anti-cottager” since he finds they bring vibrancy and many benefits to the area, but disappointed that so many Ontarians are not following recommendations.

“No attention paid to the government request to stay home and too late to put in mandatory restrictions,” he said. “Most likely outcome will be a significant increase in local virus illnesses and deaths.”

And while Québec has enacted measures to weed out non-residents heading to the Laurentians and Charlevoix region, the same kind of thing might not be possible here, according to Central Region OPP Sgt. Jason Folz, who noted it would take the passing of a specific piece of legislature and a massive use of police resources to provide similar enforcement here.

“Nothing can be done to prevent seasonal residents coming up to their cottage,” Folz said, pointing out the limiting of non-essential travel came as a recommendation from the government and not a law.

“There is nothing preventing someone from just saying, 'the cottage is now my permanent residence until the pandemic restrictions are done'.

“If you think beyond just the Georgian Bay region into the Muskokas and Kawarthas, that is just in the Central Region. The government would have to be careful not to turn this pandemic into a police state. Some would argue we are already there. There certainly is a delicate balance between passing these laws and infringing on people’s civil liberties.”

Folz said asking people to comply is still the best approach.

“According to our health professionals, the more people stay home and reduce contact with others the sooner restrictions could be reduced,” he said.

While a County of Simcoe official wasn't available for comment in time for publication, the organization sent out a release Friday again pleading with people to stay home.

“Our region is a destination for many cottagers and seasonal residents during normal times, and a reminder that the County joined many of our municipalities in requesting that all individuals stay in their primary residence during this difficult time,” the release stated.

"Ontario is in a critical period where all citizens must heed public health warnings in order to reduce the impending impact on the health-care system: the faster we can limit community transmission to a minimum, the faster we can flatten the curve, protect residents’ social and physical well-being, and start the process of recovery.”

And with warmer weather on the horizon, Roche said she expects more Toronto-area residents will opt to head north and, thereby, potentially bring the virus with them.

“We do have soldiers at (Canadian Forces Base) Borden on standby ... whatever it takes ... the minority should not dictate and decide how the majority lives,” she said.

“The responsible majority are taking this seriously and I will not stay mute while the minority's reckless and selfish behaviour is deciding how I live my life. Notice that the local municipalities asked people to stay down south Easter weekend ... nicely asking does not work.”

Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Community Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago
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