Along with the easing of pandemic restrictions, Woolwich, Wellesley and the other lower-tier municipalities have pulled the plug on the state of emergencies each declared. At the regional level, however, the declaration remains, though that means little to the average resident.
“Your area municipalities have had a checklist, to say, ‘have we met this threshold where we could rescind the declaration of emergencies?’ The region is not in that position at this current time because of some of the services that we offer, such as some shelters,” said Chair Karen Redman last Friday during what was the region’s last regular scheduled pandemic update.
Along with shelters, Redman pointed to other essential services that the region oversees such as transit, paramedics and police that remain in pandemic mode.
“Sometimes we have to redeploy our staff to help provide those services. But area municipalities feel that they have met that criteria. But that’s why we’re not all currently on the same page, the region is not in a position where I would rescind that declaration of emergency right now, but area municipalities feel that they have demonstrated that they are able,” she said.
The decision comes as the number of COVID-19 cases remains largely unchanged as mask mandates are lifted. In Waterloo Region, there were 427 active cases at midweek, down slightly from 431 a week earlier, with outbreaks being monitored in five locations. In the past week, the death toll since the pandemic began reached 401.
Even with many restriction rescinded by the province, local officials are still recommending residents exercise caution.
“This pandemic is not over. The masking bylaw mandatory mandate has been lifted by the region, and the restrictions are being eased – I think we’re all done with this pandemic, but it’s not done with us,” said Redman.
With the provincial government removing mask mandates in most settings, medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang was asked if she would consider instituting a regional mandate if cases rise again, prompting her to note that such a move was not within her power.
“[The provincial government] did make some changes to the Reopening Act, which made those local decisions by local medical officers not possible going forward,” she said.
All seven municipal mayors were present at the update to reflect on the last two years.
“I think it’s safe to say that the residents of Wellesley Township managed the pandemic, they did not allow the pandemic to manage them. From the beginning, there were many creative initiatives implemented by various organizations and groups: support local, stronger together, there was a demonstrated appreciation for all the frontline workers. There were innovative ways for service clubs [such as] our Apple Butter and Cheese Festival, or fair board to support the food bank and many other community projects,” said Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak.
Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz highlighted the collaboration that happened between Woolwich and the other rural townships of North Dumfries, Wellesley and Wilmot in creating the Rural Recovery Coordinating Committee.
“During the last few years we’ve accomplished so many things together, setting aside politics and differences to do our best to create as safe an overall environment as we could. … This collaborative working group was able to support one another through the sharing of COVID-19 protocols, procedures, and best practices, utilizing our rural farm raising spirit,” Shantz said, who noted the coordinating committee is currently working on a rural mental health forum that will take place in the coming months.
“Although we’ve come a long way in the past few months, we know that there are still challenges brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. And then further with the news out of Ukraine, we recognize that maintaining our mental health and vitality is so important,” she said.
In Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Public Health reported 292 active cases, up from 259 a week earlier. Officials reported a cumulative 158 fatalities since the pandemic began, unchanged in the past week.