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Businesses voluntarily close, people urged to stay home amid COVID surge

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With public health declaring a “critical threshold” of local COVID-19 cases, area politicians are echoing a call for people to stay home except for necessities and many businesses have opted to voluntarily close until at least Saturday.

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Grey County Warden Selwyn Hicks said he’s alarmed by the surge in local cases and close contacts.

“Please, I implore everyone, stay at home. Only leave for essential purposes. If we don’t take this seriously and act now all of our effort and sacrifices from the past year will have been for nothing,” he said Thursday.

“I know everyone is feeling tired. I know many of us are frustrated, but right now your community needs you to follow the direction of public health and put the needs of your community above your own desires.”

Bruce County Warden Janice Jackson is also urging people to only leave home for necessities and asking part-time and seasonal residents to stay at their primary residences until the provincial stay-at-home order is lifted.

“Please join us by doing your part to protect yourself, the most vulnerable in our communities and our hard-working front-line workers,” she said.

Medical officer of health Dr. Ian Arra said Wednesday that everyone in Grey-Bruce must consider themselves a carrier of COVID-19 for the next 48 hours until public health reaches all cases and their contacts.

He asked everyone to stay home except for necessities while announcing that public health identified 70 new confirmed COVID-19 cases across Grey-Bruce within the previous 36-hour period. The cases have the potential, Arra said, to generate hundreds of close contacts, noting public health’s contact tracing and case management capacity “is being stretched to its limit.”

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Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker, a member of provincial cabinet, said he’s “very concerned” about the surge in numbers and possibility it could overwhelm the health care system.

He said he would discuss the local situation during a cabinet meeting Thursday.

“This is no different than what people in the hotspots have been dealing with for some time now. Sadly, it’s come to our area and I really believe it’s a case of people getting complacent and frustration and tiring of COVID as we all are,” said Walker, who’s also imploring people to heed Arra’s advice.

“This is just indicative of how quickly things can change and how perilous the situation can become virtually overnight.”

To help discourage travel, Grey County and the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority closed their forest properties and trails until Saturday, while Grey Sauble Conservation is asking people to refrain from visiting its conservation areas Thursday and Friday.

Several libraries, including those in Owen Sound, Meaford and Bruce County, have temporarily suspended curbside pickup and many municipalities have shuttered additional facilities.

Many businesses voluntarily suspended curbside pickup and takeout for 48 hours.

Kris Heathers, owner of Elsie’s Diner in Springmount, said she made that decision for her restaurant to keep staff and the public safe.

With so many confirmed cases and high-risk contacts locally, she said nobody knows who’s been exposed to the virus, so temporarily suspending takeout to allow public health to complete contact tracing is the “smart and responsible” thing to do.

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“If the health unit has asked us to stay home for 48 hours, it’s not much of a hardship, is it?” she said.

“Yes, it’s going to hurt me too – I’m sick of being hurt by the pandemic – but I also know it’s a real thing so let’s follow the rules and try to stop this.”

Owen Sound Downtown Improvement Area board chair Dave Parsons said he estimates at least half of the downtown businesses have completely closed for Thursday and Friday.

He temporarily suspended curbside pickup at his business, Parsons Foto Source, saying he’s concerned about the high local case count and more contagious variants in the community.

“Many of the stores that could have possibly been open downtown are not open and I feel that’s a good thing. Certainly, there aren’t too many cars on the main street as there usually are, so I do think people are paying attention,” he said.

Ron Cole of Pretty Woman’s Shoes & Swirls said the downtown fashion and shoe repair store has been offering curbside pickup since the start of the provincial shutdown, but they opted to suspend the service until Saturday.

“With the health unit recommending staying put for 48 hours, I’m just going on their recommendation and what’s best for the community,” he said.

Business has been slow recently and “lacklustre” during the pandemic due to people not being out to shop, he said.

“I’m hoping things shape up here when the warmer weather hits and people are out and about a bit more.”

Saugeen Shores Chamber of Commerce president Steve Harris said many businesses in the municipality have opted to close completely for a couple days due to public health’s concerns.

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Harris’ Ristorante Rosina in Port Elgin closed for takeout, with a plan to reopen Saturday. He said it’s time for “everyone to do their part” to assist with curbing the virus’s spread.

“In review of the local numbers from the Grey Bruce Health Unit, we understand their plea and concerns with looking at case counts and contacting close contacts,” he said. “The concern that I saw is that it’s going to impact vaccination clinics.”

He said he believes Grey-Bruce has done well so far with its vaccination rollout and he wants to see it get back on track.

Also Thursday, Parks Canada closed Bruce Peninsula National Park until Saturday.

Owen Sound said its parks and trails remain open, but all washrooms are closed. The city is strongly discouraging people from using playgrounds and other recreational amenities, fearing it could cause gatherings.

The Owen Sound Farmer’s Market will be closed Saturday, but the online store hours have been extended until noon Friday for curbside pickup.

Many companies and businesses, including Bruce Power, advised employees who can work remotely to do so over the next couple days.

Grey County has temporarily suspended window visits at its three long-term care homes.

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