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Midland council to remain remote a little longer

·4 min read

Members of the public waiting for Midland council to reconvene in-person sessions might not want to hold their breath.

During a recent committee of the whole meeting, CAO David Denault provided a verbal update of COVID-19 as it pertained to North Simcoe and the town itself.

Denault touched upon an announcement earlier this month by Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), which put an additional layer of protection for public safety in indoor sports and recreation facilities for the region.

“You get the regulations from the province, and you can get an order from the chief medical officer which overrides that to some degree,” Denault explained. “(Dr. Gardner) would like, starting November 25th, to include people who would normally be excluded; and those are coaches and officials who are going into those facilities, they will also be required to present vaccination proof.”

Coun. Bill Gordon pointed out that under provincial guidelines, individuals providing proof of double vaccination status to restaurants are able to gather “shoulder-to-shoulder, masks off” and asked Denault when Midland council would reconvene in the chamber instead of governing through remote conferencing.

Denault replied, “On a good day in that council chamber, there’s not great audio to begin with. We’ve tested the chamber using various methods to see if we can offer a hybrid and the feedback is still pretty strong to allow that, because the spacing in that particular area would not allow any meaningful public representation.”

Andy Campbell, executive director of environment and infrastructure, added that council had previously approved close to $100,000 for upgrades to the chamber, but new assessments over regulations can change plans incredibly fast.

“This morning we were actually looking at plexiglass barriers on the horseshoe (council seating configuration) to allow where the current councillors sit,” Campbell stated. “And then later in the day the health unit said, ‘oh, you need six-foot spacing,' so that means we can only put five people at the horseshoe. So even our plans this morning for the number of plexiglass barriers between each councillor changed.

“I hope by the end of the week we’ll have some information back from some vendors, but I wouldn’t expect us to be able to get in there for the November 18th meeting; we’ll have to see about the December meeting,” Campbell speculated.

Gordon continued to press the matter, continually bringing back the comparison to restaurant rules. Denault understood Gordon’s point of view.

“There are Ontario regulations, and there are Health Unit regulations. And they can be different to some degree,” said Denault. “I alluded to -- on November 25 -- the Health Unit has pushed us to go farther, in terms of officials coming into that rec centre being vaccinated; the Ontario policy didn’t require that, the Health Unit pushed us that way."

Mayor Stewart Strathearn, the sole member of council in the chamber during the meeting, called the situation “perplexing.”

“I’ll just confirm that it’s awfully quiet in here without the rest of council, so I’d love to see you back here… earphone hair and all. I guess Coun. Gordon doesn’t have to worry about that,” Strathern added jokingly.

But just five kilometres down the road, Penetanguishene councillors attended their first in-chamber regular meeting earlier this month with ample spacing between staff and plexiglass barriers between each member of council.

Tay council will be addressing their COVID-19 vaccination policy for staff on the agenda during their regular meeting later this week.

And just this week, the province lifted capacity limits for some locations where proof of vaccination is required, with intent to remove public health measures including mask mandates by March of 2022 as conditions see fit.

Earlier in the meeting, council approved a COVID-19 vaccination policy, which applies to council along with board and committee members.

Strathearn praised the policy.

“It’s even-handed, and for the most part, equal application across the board. I’m looking forward to the day when we don’t have to worry about this anymore, as I’m sure we all are," he said.

Information on the COVID-19 vaccination policy for council, board and committee members can be found on the town of Midland website agenda page.

Council meetings are held on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, and can be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca

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