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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Local officials discuss COVID business impact with Essex Council

- MP Lewis, MPP Nicholls, MPP Natyshak,

and Medical Officer of Health joined the conversation -

by Adam Gault

A group of local political representatives, along with the Medical Officer of Health for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), met with Essex Council members during Monday evening’s virtual regular meeting to discuss the impact COVID-19 restrictions have had on small business during the current Provincial lockdown.

  Following a January 18 special meeting, where Council heard from local business owners on how the closures of their businesses have impacted their financial and mental state, the Town sent correspondence to the Provincial and Federal government, requesting for immediate action in mitigating the damage done to small businesses and to address the inconsistencies in rules and regulations for retail and in-person businesses.

  During this discussion, Essex Council was joined by Essex MPP Taras Natyshak, Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls, Essex MP Chris Lewis, and WECHU Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Wajid Ahmed. During the roundtable discussion, Council relayed the concerns from residents and small business operators with the various levels of government reps, in seeking a way for small businesses to reopen with safety measures in place.

  Speaking to how he was able to work in a manufacturing facility and office with hundreds of employees going to work everyday, Councillor Steven Bjorkman asked how it was fair for these facilities to continue to operate throughout the pandemic, while main street businesses are forced into less than effective curbside pickup.

  “That’s where the fairness doesn’t work. This idea that we’re doing our best to treat everyone fair, we’re doing our best to keep everyone safe, and everyone’s being treated the same, is not true,” Bjorkman said. “We have to get past that. We have to get these people back to work, so that they can provide for their families, so that they can bring their employees back. The double standard as to who can work and who can’t work, couldn’t be greater.”

  Councillors also raised concerns surrounding the impacts on mental health during the meeting, with Councillor Joe Garon adding that with physical and social outlets shuttered, many in the community are reaching their breaking point.

  “I was afraid that when this all started, that it was possible that the solution we’re trying to find for the problem was going to be worse than the problem itself,” Garon said. “I’m seeing just in my house alone, we vent, and we take it out on each other, and I don’t think that’s healthy. I think that the mental health part of this whole pandemic is going to end up being the bigger problem, and I think we’re going to see the true results of that well after we’re done dealing with the COVID pandemic.”

  Dr. Ahmed disagreed with the Councillor’s take that the restrictions were causing the mental health impacts, instead stating that it was the pandemic itself that was affecting people’s mental health.

  “It would be hard to make a quantification to say what is bad, staying home versus getting sick, or hospitalized, or even worse,” Ahmed explained. “There are all of these trade offs, and that’s why it’s important that it’s not just me who is making the decision or making that recommendation. My immediate job is to save lives, my immediate job is to make sure that people stay healthy as much as possible.”

  Councillor Sherry Bondy added the Town has made its position very clear, that all small businesses are essential for the economic prosperity of not just their proprietors, but the greater health of the town as a whole.

  “Those small businesses are putting bread and butter on the table of their families,” Bondy said. “It’s mental health, it’s community vitality, it’s community wellness that we’re really ignoring. No matter how many lockdowns we have, if we don’t fix the issues in long-term care and retirement homes, then we’re going to keep spinning our wheels.”

  Making no commitment, MPP Nicholls, who is a member of Ford’s PC government, said he remains optimistic the lockdown will be lifted in mid-February, when it is reviewed by the Ontario government.

  “We’ll continue to monitor the numbers, and as the numbers go down, then things will start to open up,” Nicholls said. “Right now, I think a lot of people are suffering with what I would call ‘cabin fever,’ and we’re trying to do our best.”


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