U.S. President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Texas after a devastating winter storm left more than 13 million people struggling to access basic necessities such as clean water.
U.S. President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Texas after a devastating winter storm left more than 13 million people struggling to access basic necessities such as clean water.
NEW YORK — A New York prosecutor has obtained copies of Donald Trump’s tax records after the Supreme Court this week rejected the former president’s last-ditch effort to prevent them from being handed over. The Manhattan district attorney’s office enforced a subpoena on Trump’s accounting firm within hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday and now has the documents in hand, a spokesperson for the office, Danny Frost, said Thursday. District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. had been fighting for a year and a half for access to Trump’s tax records for a criminal grand jury investigation into his business dealings. The documents are protected by grand jury secrecy rules and are not expected to be made public. Vance, a Democrat, is conducting a wide-ranging investigation that includes an examination of whether Trump or his businesses lied about the value of assets to gain favourable loan terms and tax benefits. The district attorney is also scrutinizing hush-money payments paid to women on Trump’s behalf. Vance’s office issued a subpoena to Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, in August 2019 seeking eight years of his tax returns and related documents. Trump’s lawyers immediately went to court to block its enforcement, first arguing that he was immune from being investigated while president. When the Supreme Court rejected that argument 7-2 last July, Trump’s lawyers returned to a lower court and argued the subpoena was issued in bad faith, overly broad, might have been politically motivated and amounted to harassment. An appellate court rejected that argument and the Supreme Court on Monday declined to intervene. In a three-word statement after the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, Vance said only: “The work continues.” Trump has called Vance’s investigation “a fishing expedition” and “a continuation of the witch hunt — the greatest witch hunt in history.” Vance is leading the investigation along with his general counsel, Carey Dunne, who made arguments on behalf of the office at various appellate court hearings. Vance recently hired former mafia prosecutor Mark Pomerantz as a special assistant district attorney to assist in the probe. Vance, whose term expires at the end of the year, hasn’t announced if he will seek reelection, leaving questions about who will lead any Trump-related prosecutions in the future. Vance’s subpoena sought from Mazars USA not only the final versions of Trump’s tax returns, but also draft versions of those returns and “any and all statements of financial condition, annual statements, periodic financial reports, and independent auditors’ reports” held by the company. Mazars did not object to the subpoena and, in a statement at the time, said it would “respect the legal process and fully comply with its legal obligations.” The Mazars subpoena also sought engagement agreements that define the accountants’ role in creating the tax returns and financial statements; source documents providing the accountants with raw financial data; and work papers and communications between the firm and Trump representatives. Those would include communications showing how the raw data was analyzed and treated in the preparation of the records. The New York Times separately obtained years of Trump’s tax data and published stories last year detailing some of his finances, including that he paid just $750 in federal income tax in 2017 and no income tax in 11 of 18 years because of major losses. Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press
OTTAWA — The COVID-19 pandemic appears set to force a modernization of Canada's justice system. Federal Justice Minister David Lametti has introduced a bill the government says will make targeted and permanent changes to the Criminal Code to give courts flexibility. Among them are clarifying the law to allow the accused to appear remotely in certain criminal proceedings and providing for remote participation for jury selection.The government says that even with the proposed changes, in-person proceedings would remain the norm, but the new provisions would ensure a remote approach remains an option. Canada's justice system was already wrestling with case backlogs in the courts when the pandemic hit last year, closing courthouses and pausing many trials.Courts were forced to look at different ways of working and accelerate steps toward modernization that many felt were long overdue.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
NEW YORK — Stephen King spoke recently to The Associated Press recently about his new novel, “Later,” but he also covered topics ranging from the famous people who have turned up at his readings to what happens when he looks up his own name on the Internet. And he think he has a good idea for a novel about the pandemic. Some excerpts: —- SEARCHING FOR ‘STEPHEN KING’ “I have Googled my own name, and I love to see all the sorts of stuff that comes in. It’s a popular name in Australia, and there a lot of people with that name there who have been doing crimes: Stephen Kings who have set houses on fire and Stephen Kings who are bank robbers. That sort of thing. What I (also) see more and more are obituaries where so and so died at age 89 and he was a ‘big fan of Stephen King novels.’” —- SPECIAL GUESTS —- “Jill Biden showed up at a public event that I did. She was in the crowd, and she came backstage and had a couple of books she wanted signed for her and Joe. One time, I’m doing a reading in Seattle, and I’m looking at the crowd, 70-80 people. And I’m looking at this guy in the front row and he’s wearing workout pants, with a stripe down the side, and sneakers. And I’m thinking, ‘That guy looks really familiar.’ He was the lead singer of Pearl Jam (Eddie Vedder)." —- MAGIC CHILDREN “When I was writing ‘It,’ there was a 5-year-old kid, he was on my street in Bangor. He was sitting on the edge of the street and he had a stick and he was drawing in the dirt and talking to himself. And it looked like a kid who might be unconsciously summoning demons. And I thought to myself, ‘If I did that, if I sat down in the dirt with sticks and drew, the men in the white coats would come and take me away.’ We allow kids to be crazy. We allow kids to see whatever it is they see.” —- PANDEMIC FICTION — STORY IDEA “(What about) an alien invasion where the aliens seem to look like us, but have these tentacles and other metal things — and the masks would cover them up?” Hillel Italie, The Associated Press
Before COVID-19, visits to Greece's paper-strewn labour offices were a ordeal of queues and case files, often for basic matters that in less than a year have moved online as the pandemic upended old administrative routines. "Essentially overnight, two thirds of the visits were no longer necessary," said Spiros Protopsaltis, head of OAED, the Organization of Employment and Unemployment Insurance. Crammed with thousands of folders and blue OAED registration cards spilling out onto desks and floor space, the corridors of the building where he spoke still offer a daunting vision of the challenge to overhauling public services in Greece.
(Submitted by The Front Yard Flower Co. - image credit) Flower vendors are worried B.C.'s COVID-19 rules for farmers' markets could lead to greenhouses full of blooms going to waste. Farmers' markets are considered an essential service and have been allowed to continue operating throughout the pandemic. However, non-food vendors like potters, jewelry and soap makers and flower sellers are excluded from in-person sales. This rule was lifted for a time last summer before being reinstated in December. Flower farmers plan months ahead, ordering seeds and growing plants throughout the winter, said Rachel Ryall, who owns River and Sea Flowers in Ladner. "We planted the current flowers that will be blooming over the next month back in September and October, assuming things would be alright to sell them again," Ryall said. "I can't stop them from flowering. They're coming." Rose Dykstra, owner of The Front Yard Flower Co. in Richmond, says it was never clear why non-food vendors were excluded from selling in farmers' markets. She has started a petition urging non-food vendors be allowed back. She has sold her flowers at the Vancouver Farmers Market for years and says the market has maintained strict rules throughout the pandemic to keep visitors and vendors safe. Spring flowers like tulips, narcissus, ranunculus and anemones will be ready soon and she's worried about lost sales and wasted blooms — she says she's not equipped for large-scale delivery across the Lower Mainland. "I feel like maybe we've been forgotten, because we're not vegetable farmers, we're kind of a smaller segment of vendors," Dykstra said. Rose Dykstra, owner of The Front Yard Flower Co. in Richmond, says it was never clear why non-food vendors were excluded from selling in farmers' markets. She has started a petition asking that non-food vendors be allowed back. Laura Smit, executive director of Vancouver Farmers Market, says although she is grateful the province has permitted markets to continue operating, it's never been made clear why non-food vendors aren't allowed. The farmers' market has been working since December to bring back non-food vendors, and she says if the rule is not overturned, it will have a big impact on the bottom line for flower vendors in particular. "Their product is absolutely seasonal," Smit said. "It's not something that is shelf-stable and can sit around to be sold later on in August. Literally the spring time is when these flower farmers are planning for, preparing for, and they don't understand why they can't come to market and we don't either." Spring flowers like tulips, narcissus, ranunculus and anemones will be ready soon and Rose Dykstra is worried about lost sales and wasted blooms if she can't bring them to the market. In an email to CBC News, the B.C. Ministry of Health said the rule is in an effort to keep the risk of COVID-19 transmission down, and added that non-food vendors can do online sales and pick-up orders. "The reason that food vendors are allowed is that farmers' markets are essential food and agriculture service providers," a spokesperson said. "The B.C. government will continue to listen to feedback from the community and stakeholders and adjust our response to support businesses as needed." Soap also not allowed — during a pandemic It's not just flower farmers who are concerned. Shea Hogan hopes he will be able to sell his natural bar soap at farmers' markets again this spring. The owner of PoCo Soap Co. says farmers' markets used to be a big part of his business and a way to build relationships with customers. He says it's ironic that, as a non-food vendor, he can't sell soap in a pandemic. He believes buying items from an outdoor farmers' market is among the safest ways to shop. "It was frustrating because other than being arbitrary and general, we're being told to wash our hands with soap and water," Hogan said. "And as a maker and seller of soap, to not be allowed to sell soap somewhere seems ... extra weird."
LATCHFORD – Latchford is joining other Northern Ontario municipalities in pressuring the Ontario government to reinstate the Northlander passenger train. Northeastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) submitted a letter to the province at the end of January calling for money to be put into the budget for the purpose of bringing the Northlander back. The City of North Bay has also circulated a motion to fellow municipalities that is calling on Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney to honour the 2018 pledge to bring the Northlander back, which has been out of service since 2012. At their regular meeting on February 18, Latchford council passed a resolution calling on the Ontario government to restore the passenger rail service prior to the 2022 provincial election. Latchford Mayor George Lefebvre said the resolution will be forwarded to the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities, Nipissing-Timiskaming MP and the Honourable Speaker of the House Anthony Rota and also Nipissing MPP and Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Vic Fedeli for their endorsement and support. Latchford is also asking the federal government to assist in funding the annual expenses of the Northlander and the Polar Bear Express “as they provide a valuable connection to the James Bay coast,” said Lefebvre. “I can tell you that I find it rather amazing that they’re talking about having to do a track evaluation study before they reconsider this when they already doubled the size of their freight trains in length and the power units attached to them,” he noted. “If ever you needed to do a track evaluation, it would have been prior to that rather than just a little two or three coach passenger train, but nonetheless.” Jamie Mountain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temiskaming Speaker
PARRY SOUND-MUSKOKA — Camp Ooch Muskoka isn’t your typical summer camp and this year isn’t your typical summer. Since COVID-19 arrived, it has dramatically changed the way people live, work and socialize. For the non-profit oncology camp that welcomes families affected by childhood cancer, the challenges have been no different. But, while many summer camps and programs have been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium has developed virtual programming to keep its community connected. “We want people to know that we’re still here and we’re still programming,” said Melanie Lovering, director of marketing and communications for Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium. To date, the camp has offered more than 2,000 virtual experiences for its campers and their families with content ranging from interactive games, songs and dance to entertainment from program specialists. “Families who have a child with cancer are, at the best of times, isolated,” Lovering explained. When deciding how to proceed this year with a camp for so many immune-compromised guests, she said cancelling just wasn’t an option. “We couldn’t do that to our families because they need us more than ever.” Ooch Muskoka, the last year has been one of growth as its location in Rosseau where Path to Play, a $35 million expansion is now primed for further construction to render the camp more accessible, building outdoor paths that can accommodate wheelchairs and accessible boating facilities. The goal, Lovering said, is to make Ooch Muskoka the kind of place where kids using assisted devices can navigate the campus fully independently. Ooch Muskoka is the only oncology camp in Canada that provides on-site IV chemotherapy and blood transfusions thanks to a team of pediatric oncologists and nurses on call 24 hours a day. “No matter the depth of their illness we’re there for them,” Lovering said. “They come to camp and they’re just like every other kid. There’s a lot of comfort and a lot of acceptance and a sense of community and a sense of belonging. It’s like a lifeline for them.” Many people think Ooch Muskoka is an overnight camp only, but Lovering points out the philosophy is more that of a social support system for families affected by childhood cancer across the province. “We really want the Muskoka community to know what we’re up to,” she said. The camp currently serves 1,900 kids from approximately 750 families. However, the goal is to reach 100 per cent of the more than 4,000 kids in Ontario currently experiencing cancer. The ripple effects of COVID however, have left Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium with “a major downturn in our revenues,” Lovering said so fundraising is particularly vital this year. To that end, Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium is hosting a virtual campfire chat June 25 at 12:30 p.m. to keep its supporters, donors and extended community, updated. “We’ve been so busy actually building this,” said Lovering, “we’ve had limited opportunity to tell our community what we’re doing.” To join the virtual chat RSVP to email@example.com. Guests will also be sent an outlook invitation with the following zoom details: Zoom online: https://ooch.zoom.us/j/8658057056 Zoom phone-in: 647-374-4685, enter meeting # 8658057056. This story was altered at 3:25 p.m. on June 23 to reflect the full name of the camp as Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium and to clarify $35 million of the construction is now complete and does not include the future modifications to make the camp accessible. Kristyn Anthony reports for Muskokaregion.com through the Local Journalism Initiative, a program funded by the Canadian government. Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus will reopen high schools, gyms, pools, dance academies and art galleries on March 1 in a further, incremental easing of the country’s second nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, the government said Thursday. Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said easing the six-week-old lockdown should proceed “slowly, cautiously and in a controlled manner.” He warned that the situation could easily get out of hand again as the country’s infection rate remains slightly above safety limits set by the European Union’s disease prevention agency. According to Ioannou, the number of infections now stands at 164.3 per 100,000 people. Middle school students are scheduled to return to classrooms March 8, Ioannou said, signalling the reopening of all schools after weeks of online instruction. Primary schools are already holding in-person classes. But the minister made it clear that twice-daily excursions requiring SMS approval and a 9:00pm-5:00am curfew will remain in effect. “We'll do without certain things for the next two or three months, some measures will carry on until there's (sufficient) vaccination coverage which is estimated to happen by June," Ioannou said. A ban on public gatherings also continues to apply despite growing public fatigue that culminated with thousands demonstrating last weekend in the capital to protest the restrictions, alleged police heavy-handedness and corruption. Police didn’t intervene in that protest, but used a water cannon, pepper spray and stun grenades to disperse a much smaller group of left-wing demonstrators a week earlier. One young woman required surgery for an eye injury following a blast from the water canon. The force’s actions triggered a public outcry and prompted a probe to determine whether riot police used disproportionate force. On Wednesday, Amnesty International urged Cypriot authorities to lift what it called “an unlawful and disproportionate blanket ban” on demonstrations. Amnesty International Greece and Cyprus official Kondylia Gogou said police made “unnecessary and excessive use of force" during the earlier protest. She said the violence was also part of a “deeply worrying pattern" in Cyprus where “human rights are coming under sustained attack." ___ Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak The Associated Press
The provincial government has removed the ban on short-term rentals. The ban, which went into effect April 4, under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, prohibited property owners from renting to guests for a period less than 28 days. Initially the policy was enacted as a safety measure due to Covid-19, to eliminate unnecessary travel and exposure to communities. However, there was confusion over reservations in place prior to April 4 and what structures — motels, cottages, etc. — were considered off limits and to whom. Lodges, cabins, cottages, homes, condominiums and bed-and-breakfast rentals are now permitted across the province, according to a news release from Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller. “While this will in no way be a normal summer at least this will give these businesses a chance to survive the COVID-19 crisis,” Miller said in a statement, thanking owners for their patience. “The opening of these facilities will also bring more customers to shops and other small businesses.” Doug Ingram runs Ingram Cottages, with two rental properties in Bala and Gravenhurst. Prior to today, he reached out to local and provincial government who directed him to a hotline for business concerns during Covid that said he was permitted to rent to families who reside in the same home. Still the ban restricted the length of his guests’ stay, a challenge considering the bulk of his summer business is from Canadians renting weekly. With restrictions removed, he said, “we’re all ready to go,” pointing to a full roster of bookings, enhanced cleaning protocols and specific Covid guidelines he designed for staff and guests. “Everything has a risk management to it.” Despite the challenges, demand has been “crazy,” at Jayne’s Cottages, said owner and operator, Jayne McCaw. “We’re having a blockbuster season.” Typically, McCaw sees 30 per cent of her summer business come from American and other international travellers, many who book one of her 200-plus cottages for a week or two. Because of Covid and the short-term rental ban, requests for month-long stays have tripled, she said. McCaw and her colleagues in the industry, formed the Ontario Cottage Rental Managers Association to advocate for reopening, writing to Premier Doug Ford to outline measures taken to keep guests safe during the pandemic. At Jayne’s Cottages, guests are met in person at a safe distance to complete a waiver that states no one in the party is ill or showing symptoms. McCaw has reduced the maximum number of guests per cottage to 10, decreased rental prices to reflect that, included Covid cleaning kits in each cottage and will leave two days between each rental. “It’s been so stressful,” she said, as some property owners she works with have removed their cottages from her inventory out of concerns for safety. Despite the challenges and with the ban now lifted, McCaw expects a prosperous season. “With no day camps running or for those who don’t have the neighbourhood pool anymore, or who can’t go to Europe, their summer is so different,” she said. “People are coming to Muskoka that don’t usually.” Kristyn Anthony reports for Muskokaregion.com through the Local Journalism Initiative, a program funded by the Canadian government. Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
NEW YORK — The exclusion of The Weeknd's “Blinding Lights" at the 2021 Grammy Awards shocked many, but he's in good company: Prince's “When Doves Cry" never scored a nomination either. Here's a look at every Billboard No. 1 hit of the year since 1958, Grammy-nominated or not. NOTE: Songs with an asterisk represent tracks that earned a Grammy nomination; songs with two asterisks won a Grammy. ______ 2020: The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights” 2019: Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2018: Drake, “God’s Plan” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2017: Ed Sheeran, “Shape of You” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2016: Justin Bieber, “Love Yourself” (asterisk) 2015: Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2014: Pharrell Williams, “Happy” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2013: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz, “Thrift Shop” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2012: Gotye featuring Kimbra, “Somebody That I Used to Know” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2011: Adele, “Rolling In the Deep” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2010: Kesha, “Tik Tok” 2009: Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2008: Flo Rida featuring T-Pain, “Get Low” (asterisk) 2007: Beyoncé, “Irreplaceable” (asterisk) 2006: Daniel Powter, “Bad Day” (asterisk) 2005: Mariah Carey, “We Belong Together” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2004: Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris, “Yeah!” (asterisk)(asterisk) 2003: 50 Cent, “In Da Club” (asterisk) 2002: Nickelback, “How You Remind Me” (asterisk) 2001: Lifehouse, “Hanging by a Moment” 2000: Faith Hill, “Breathe” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1999: Cher, “Believe” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1998: Next, “Too Close” 1997: Elton John “Candle In the Wind 1997” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1996: Los del Río, “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” 1995: Coolio, “Gangsta’s Paradise” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1994: Ace of Base, “The Sign” (asterisk) 1993: Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”(asterisk)(asterisk) 1992: Boyz II Men, “End of the Road” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1991: Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1990: Wilson Phillips, “Hold On” (asterisk) 1989: Chicago, “Look Away” 1988: George Michael, “Faith” 1987: The Bangles, “Walk Like an Egyptian” 1986: Dionne Warwick & Friends, “That’s What Friends Are For” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1985: Wham!, “Careless Whisper” 1984: Prince, “When Doves Cry” 1983: The Police, “Every Breath You Take” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1982: Olivia Newton-John, “Physical” (asterisk) 1981: Kim Carnes, “Bette Davis Eyes” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1980: Blondie, “Call Me” (asterisk) 1979: The Knack, “My Sharona” (asterisk) 1978: Andy Gibb, “Shadow Dancing” 1977: Rod Stewart, “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” 1976: Wings, “Silly Love Songs” 1975: Captain & Tennille, “Love Will Keep Us Together” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1974: Barbra Streisand, “The Way We Were” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1973: Tony Orlando and Dawn, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree” (asterisk) 1972: Roberta Flack, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1971: Three Dog Night, “Joy to the World” (asterisk) 1970: Simon & Garfunkel, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1969: The Archies, “Sugar, Sugar” 1968: The Beatles, “Hey Jude” (asterisk) 1967: Lulu, “To Sir with Love” 1966: SSgt. Barry Sadler, “Ballad of the Green Berets” 1965: Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, “Wooly Bully” (asterisk) 1964: The Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (asterisk) 1963: Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, “Sugar Shack” 1962: Acker Bilk, “Stranger on the Shore” (asterisk) 1961: Bobby Lewis, “Tossin’ and Turnin’” 1960: Percy Faith, “Theme from A Summer Place” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1959: Johnny Horton, “The Battle of New Orleans” (asterisk)(asterisk) 1958: Domenico Modugno, “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu (Volare)” (asterisk)(asterisk) Mesfin Fekadu, The Associated Press
NEW YORK — “Caste,” Isabel Wilkerson's exploration of racism in the United States, and “The Dead are Arising,” an acclaimed biography of Malcolm X, are among this year's nominees for awards presented by the J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project. The project announced Thursday that Wilkerson is a finalist for the Lukas Book Prize, along with Becky Cooper's “We Keep the Dead Close,” Seyward Darby's “Sisters in Hate,” Barton Gellman's “Dark Mirror” and Jessica Goudeau's “After the Last Border.” The Lukas project, based at Columbia University's journalism school and named for the late investigative journalist, also announced nominees for the Mark Lynton History Prize and the Lukas awards for works in progress. The awards honour “literary grace and commitment to serious research and social concern.” Winners will be announced March 24. Winners of the Lukas Book Prize and Lynton history prize receive $10,000 each. The project awards two works in progress, each worth $25,000. “The Dead are Arising,” which won the National Book Award last fall, is a finalist for the Lynton prize. The book was co-written by Les Payne, who died in 2018, and daughter Tamara Payne. Other Lynton nominees are Martha S. Jones' “Vanguard,” Geraldine Schwarz's “Those Who Forget,” Walter Johnson's “The Broken Heart of America” and Dwayne Betts' “A Question of Freedom.” Finalists for the work-in-progress awards are David Dennis Jr.'s “The Movement Made Us,” Emily Dufton's “Addiction, Inc.,” Channing Gerard Joseph's “House of Swann,” Casey Parks' “Diary of a Misfit” and Elizabeth Rush's “The Mother of All Things.” The Associated Press
This summer looks different for everyone thanks to COVID-19 and in Dwight, it means the winter food pantry will stay open year-round to meet the needs of people struggling financially. In 2018, Huntsville business owner Marie Poirier saw there was a growing need for a food bank in Dwight. At the time, Muskoka’s food banks were predominantly in larger communities, leaving rural residents without. “I knew people were going hungry in Dwight,” Poirier said. “If you haven’t got money for food, you haven’t got money for gas to drive to Huntsville.” Growing up, Poirier’s own family experienced financial hardship that led to her parents needing to ask for help to feed their family. She swore then she’d never see anyone go hungry again. “It’s tough to have to call somebody and say, ‘I can’t afford to put food on the table for my kids,’” said Poirier. “Who wants to say that?” Dwight Winter Pantry operates out of the town's community centre with 20-odd rotating volunteers who shop, sort and distribute food and other necessary items. Before COVID, people were welcome to shop the food bank’s shelves, but now the pantry is offering prepackaged bundles through curbside pickup or delivery with a priority on confidentiality. “It’s an ever-changing model,” Poirier noted, as the pandemic continues to layer on new challenges. At the start of COVID, the pantry was low on stock as buying in bulk was not permitted and trips to grocery stores were limited. She credits the Dwight Market and Pharmacy with being a vital partner, providing food at cost, sourcing hard-to-find items and making fresh produce available. “That’s really important,” Poirier said, because donations often come in the form of dry goods, but those staples alone, “are not really a great diet for kids.” Staying open through the summer was necessary — although businesses are reopening, not everyone is able to return to pre-pandemic staffing levels — Poirier said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of people without jobs to go back to.” Additionally, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is slated to end Oct. 3 (for those who applied in March). Students could be heading back to school in September and bills are still piling up, Poirier said, as some folks have deferred utility and rent payments. “They’re going to find themselves needing food,” she said. The stress of other daily tasks is heightened when there’s no food on the table, said Sandra Daleman, manager of homelessness programs and services at the District of Muskoka. Food banks — of which there are 10 in Muskoka — are partially funded through Daleman’s department, which receives $1.1 million annually from the province. This year the department received an additional $1.3 million from the Social Services Relief Fund to help people in Muskoka exceptionally vulnerable due to the impact of COVID-19. Because of the gravity of the need the pandemic posed, funding was routed to local food banks, including the Dwight Winter Pantry. “Certainly their needs have grown since COVID,” Daleman said of Muskoka’s food banks, “and we’ve leaned on them to support communities.” A similar situation is occurring at the Winter Pantry that serves Baysville and Dorset. In March, when operations usually cease, the decision was made to extend service to the end of May, according to a spokesperson for the pantry. As of press time, the pantry is operating on an on-call, emergency basis with plans to reopen in early November. “It is hard to determine how many emergencies will dictate our fall opening date,” the pantry said in an email. “We will do what we can as the need changes.” As the need has grown, Daleman said, so too has awareness of Muskoka’s vulnerable population and a growing understanding that, “many are a paycheque away” from needing help. Many people see life a little differently now, she said. “They’ve lost their job or they were counting on tourism as their bread and butter for the year and that’s not happening.” With municipal and community partners, the district assembled a working group — the Community Supports and Collaboration Group — early on in the pandemic to address a variety of needs. “We needed to have a central repository of all the food and community resources,” Daleman said, adding, “everybody has really stepped up.” Service clubs, churches and other fundraising groups cannot gather and as a result, financial donations have decreased. The support, said Daleman, is changing and coming from other avenues. Social services that don’t generally provide food support, like the YWCA, have now taken that on. More than 40 other community groups have received calls for support. When people reach out, it is from an intersection of needs, Daleman said. And, it isn’t over. She also has her eye on the CERB deadline because she knows in many ways, the work is just beginning. “It’s a very big question,” Daleman posed. “How are we ever going to recover?” STORY BEHIND THE STORY We started to think about how, now that we have learned to live with COVID-19 what does that actually look like? When the pandemic hit, emergency services were plentiful but this reporter wanted to look at the ripple effects of the initial crisis as many people keep talking about how we are, "going back to normal." At the time of this writing, Kristyn Anthony was a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, funded by the Government of Canada Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
Regional municipal CAOs have been discussing the potential for a collaboration framework for more than a year and Hinton recently Drayton Valley in the first steps to developing this framework. Similar challenges occur in communities of Hinton’s size and region, such as budget and resource constraints, difficulty recruiting for key positions, and specialized skill and training requirements, said CAO Emily Olsen during the regular council meeting on Feb. 2. “The intention of an intermunicipal collaboration project is to explore what is possible with partner municipalities and sharing resources, including internal skills, best practices, document content and templates, or cost effective partnerships for purchasing software, external services, or other other areas where financial impacts can be spread out,” said Olsen. Drayton Valley submitted a grant application to the Alberta partnership grant under the intermunicipal collaboration component, which Hinton supported during the Feb. 2 meeting. The intention of the grant and its use is to support exploration, development, and piloting of an intermunicipal collaboration framework. That framework could be shared with the rest of the province if successful. Olsen noted that this grant will allow research into the possibilities and opportunities but doesn’t tie them to the framework yet. There is no financial commitment required by the Town of Hinton, but staff time will be needed to explore and determine where benefits and opportunities are, Olsen said. Other municipalities supporting the grant are Rocky Mountain House, Mayerthorpe, Edson and Drayton Valley. It’s still unknown when work will start and if they were successful in receiving the grant. “If it gains success, then the province may use our model to roll out to other municipalities of like size across the province. The first steps would be securing the grant funds and then meeting with counterparts to prioritize projects, timelines and determine available resource sharing,” said Faiaz Mir, Hinton’s communications coordinator. Instead of competing against each other, Mayor Marcel Michaels pointed out that municipalities will help one another in areas where they may be deficient. Working with partners that have similar needs and struggles as Hinton allows each partner to provide or share services that some municipalities can’t afford on its own, Michaels explained. For example, an engineer may only work 15 hours in the Town of Hinton, but if they can work across municipalities, as partners they are able to provide a full time position, Michaels added. “A lot of municipalities purchase plans just for their municipality. What if we had someone who could provide plans and then share them amongst municipalities, thus saving money. I think there are unlimited possibilities with this approach especially with communities under 15,000 who struggle to have the resources available but still have to provide a lot of services to their community,” Michaels said. Generally, municipalities work together with their County but they often provide different services, he added. Many municipalities of Hinton’s size don’t have their own legal department like larger centres would, but by combining three or four municipalities and their budgets, they may be able to have a dedicated legal department, Michaels continued. This would help save costs on their overall legal bills. At the moment, Michaels couldn’t identify any known specific gaps in Hinton’s service, but part of this application will be researching and developing those needs, gaps, and frameworks in each community. “It could be engineering, GIS, legal, asset management, corporate services, there’s a long list of things municipalities could share and not purchase and deliver on their own,” Michaels said. Besides operational services, another option could include the sharing of capital equipment. “Let’s say we have two snow plows, if one breaks down, we could have an agreement in place to borrow with a fixed cost or some form of compensation with another municipality. So that we can borrow their backup equipment and vice versa,” Michaels said. He noted that he hasn’t heard of municipalities sharing services and equipment like this in the past, and that the provincial government is excited about the prospect of municipalities working together. At the end of the day, the provincial government would save money too because municipalities lean on tax revenue, service fees, and grants from the provincial government. “They see this as an opportunity to save money overall which is not only the municipalities taxpayers, but taxpayers on every level. Provincial and federal,” Michaels said. Participating communities will gain access to a larger talent pool through the various municipal partners, stated administration’s Feb. 2 report. This will lead to eventual standardization of processes, access to a central database containing a library of templates, specific standardized contracts, studies, and project plans. Regional municipalities face limitations with smaller personnel budgets, and larger workloads which impact employee retention and recruitment as compared to larger centres, according to the report. In some areas the opposite is true, that the work requires a specialized skill set but the amount of work only requires a part time employment arrangement. A tele-conference was conducted on Dec. 9, 2020 between the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs, Ministers’ Chief of Staff, MLA for Drayton Valley/Devon and the CAO of Drayton Valley where the concept of this intermunicipal framework, its rationale, and progress to date was elaborated upon. CAOs for the Towns of Mayerthorpe, Hinton, Rocky Mountain House, Edson and Drayton Valley were contacted to collaborate and jointly apply for the ACP grant. If the competitive grant application is successful, coordination of the various components and resources will begin to ensure that the completion of the pilot will fall within a period of 12 to 18 months. The ACP grant was applied for on Jan. 5, 2021 with Drayton Valley as the lead, with letters of support from participating municipalities. For more information, reach out to the Town of Hinton administration at firstname.lastname@example.org Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice
(AHS - image credit) More than 100,000 newly eligible Alberta seniors had scheduled COVID-19 vaccinations by early Thursday afternoon and several thousand had received their first doses, according to the province, with many saying they looked forward to being able to safely visit family and friends someday soon. Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services promised it had fixed the issues that caused its system to crash repeatedly the previous day while tens of thousands tried for hours to book vaccinations — while at least one expert said it never needed to happen. The province said earlier in the week that about 230,000 Albertans would be newly eligible when the system opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday to all those born in 1946 or earlier. Seniors who are residents of public long-term care and designated supportive-living facilities had already received the vaccine. With 100,000 appointments already booked, that means more than 40 per cent of those newly eligible had booked their shots by calling 811 or through the online booking tool by 2 p.m. on Thursday — less than 30 hours after the system opened up to them. Allan Pasutto, 86, of Penhold was among the 2,000 or so seniors who had received their first dose by the end of day Wednesday. "I'm very fortunate to be Canadian," Pasutto told AHS staff as he received his first dose of the vaccine in Red Deer. "I'm looking forward to my retirement and enjoying life. I'm very happy to be alive." As more seniors received the vaccine on Thursday, AHS staff shared quotes and photos from behind the scenes. Arlene Jones, who got the COVID-19 vaccine in Rocky Mountain House, was one of several thousand Albertans born in 1946 or earlier who have been vaccinated so far after bookings opened up Wednesday to everyone in that age range. 'I haven’t seen my nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren since September,' she told AHS. Arlene Jones, who was getting her first shot in Rocky Mountain House, said she can't wait to be with family again, especially since she has a new grandchild coming soon. "I haven't seen my nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren since September," she said. 'I’m excited to finally get my vaccine,' Richard Wright, 75, told AHS staff. He received his first dose of the vaccine Wednesday in Grande Prairie. 'I’m hoping to be able to safely visit friends and family this summer.' Richard Wright, 75, who received his first dose in Grande Prairie on Wednesday, said he was excited to finally get it. "I'm hoping to be able to safely visit friends and family this summer." 'I think it’s important so we can stop the spread of COVID,' Elizabeth Findlay, 75, told AHS after getting her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Lethbridge. 'It’s good for myself and it’s good for everyone I know.' Elizabeth Findlay, 75, who got her first dose in Lethbridge, said she thinks it's important. "It's good for myself and it's good for everyone I know." Barry McCaughey, 76, told AHS he has spent most of the past year hibernating. 'I very seldom go out.' He received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday and looks forward to camping one day soon. Barry McCaughey, 76, who got his first dose Wednesday, said he has spent most of the past year hibernating but looks forward to hopefully camping one day soon. AHS says online booking tool fixed, phone line improved On Wednesday, many people who called Health Link at 811 reported not being able to get through on the lines at all, or being disconnected — often repeatedly — after making it part way through the booking process, while the AHS website repeatedly went down or booted people out mid-registration as they tried for hours to book an appointment. By noon Wednesday, a trio of Edmonton brothers had figured out the problem on the website and posted a solution on Twitter to help others sidestep the now-fixed glitch. By evening, the website had started to show a message letting people know how many were ahead of them in line and how long the wait would be. At about 7 p.m., users were being told they faced waits of an hour or more with about 10,000 people ahead of them in the queue. By end of day, Alberta Health Services said 43,000 people had managed to book but many others had not. Thousands of people trying to log on to Alberta Health's website to register for COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday, when it opened to people born in 1946 and older, faced long waits. As of 7 p.m., users were getting a message saying that they faced a wait of at least an hour with about 10,000 people ahead of them in the queue. On Thursday, AHS promised it had fixed its online system. "The online booking tool has stabilized since launch on Wednesday morning. We very much appreciate everyone's patience, and we understand the frustration," AHS tweeted. AHS also said improvements were made to its 811 phone line to give callers a choice to route their calls to book a COVID-19 immunization appointment or reach a registered nurse for medical concerns. As of about 10 a.m. Thursday, the bookings for the first dose of the vaccine were being scheduled for the second week of March and some people reported waiting no more than 10 to 15 minutes before being able to book online. Still, AHS urged patience, saying it continued to anticipate a wait time to get through on the online booking tool or Health Link in the days ahead. The province also pointed out eligible Albertans can book a COVID-19 immunization through some local pharmacies listed online by Alberta Blue Cross. Some Albertans frustrated by additional issues Though many ran into issues with online booking tools, other Albertans said technical glitches weren't the only headaches along the way. Janet Wees finally got through to book a COVID-19 vaccine online, but discovered the only available appointment was in Canmore — posing a problem, as Wees is from Calgary. "It's confusing, and I don't think it's because we're seniors," Wees said. "I think anybody of any age would be frustrated and confused." And while some felt panicked to accept an appointment located far away not knowing if they would miss out, others were frustrated they couldn't register as spouses. Stephanie Pollock's mother-in-law secured a vaccine appointment. However, the 81-year-old was turned away at the appointment and told she needed a doctor's note to get the vaccine because of medicine she takes that suppresses her immune system. "To have that lack of clarity and lack of readiness to handle some of these things is what frustrated me," she said. AHS said in some areas, travel may be required to get the shot, and that it is still working through some additional issues. Vaccine booking system was preventible, expert says Tom Keenan, an adjunct professor of computing science at the University of Calgary, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday that the province could have easily and inexpensively prevented the website from becoming overwhelmed by installing queue management software. He said Denmark-based Queue-it — which sells systems to cope with website traffic congestion by directing visitors to a queue where they can wait until bottlenecks clear — could have provided AHS with a solution for $30,000 to $100,000. And it would have taken about 20 minutes to install the fix, Keenan said. Keenan said that after making a few inquiries with Queue-it regarding how AHS could have used its services, a company official seemed to confirm the province had now contracted with the firm. "An hour ago, I got an email from the co-founder of Queue-it in Denmark and — breaking news, breaking news — she said, 'this is/will be a Queue-it customer,'" he said Thursday morning.
Voters in Placentia-St. Mary’s will have some more time to reflect on who they want to cast their vote for. Along with 17 other districts in the Avalon, voting for residents in Placentia-St. Mary’s has been delayed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the St. John’s Metro area. Meanwhile, Liberal incumbent Sherry Gambin-Walsh says her constituents have more than her word to hold her accountable; they have her record. “My record shows that I’ve brought millions of dollars to the district of Placentia-St. Mary’s, from $500 grants to million-dollar capital works projects,” said Gambin-Walsh, who has been the focus of two major controversies during her time in office: one involving former Liberal stalwart Eddie Joyce, whom she accused of bullying, and the other involving the leaking of cabinet information. “You should vote for me because I’m ready and available for you if you have an issue… I’m easy to access and I have no problem standing up and advocating for your issue.” Gambin-Walsh was elected in the 2015 provincial election and beat PC candidate Hilda Whalen in 2019 by just over 500 votes — a margin of about 10 percent. The margin was not quite as comfortable as her over 2,000 vote lead against PC candidate Judy Manning in 2015. Gambin-Walsh said residents in her district, which is geographically larger than most, have different concerns depending on where they live. For example, while employment on the Cape Shore is not a concern due to the landing of fishery boats in Branch, employment in St. Mary’s Bay area is a major issue. “We don’t have any good source of solid employment anymore,” said Gambin-Walsh. “Once upon a time, we did have a fish plant down in St. Mary’s. It’s dormant right now, but I do now that the operator is trying to get his license re-established. He hasn’t been successful yet, but I do really support that, because I have a significant number of people down there having to access programs, seek community enhancement programs and job creation programs, specifically because they have no other source of income. And to drive from Peter’s River to Tim Hortons in CBS for minimum wage, you’re in the negative, you’re not in the positive. The evidence is there. The dollar amount that has gone out in JCP this year alone is excessive, so that’s a problem in that area.” Another concern, is the defunct Admirals Beach fish plant, which “is currently falling into the ocean,” said Gambin-Walsh. “It’s going to cost anywhere from $700,000 to a million to get it down, and there’s no jobs created in taking it down because it will be tendered. There has been a study done that shows there are some environmental chemicals that are dangerous to the environment, so that’s an issue at Admirals Beach.” Meanwhile, residents throughout the district are worried about the future of Argentia and the White Rose offshore oil project, while residents in Dunville worry about the need for water infrastructure upgrades, estimated, said Gambin-Walsh, at about $10-11 million, while residents in Placentia wonder about the increased construction costs of a wellness centre. Across the district as a whole, residents decry the state of many provincial roads. “Roads, roads, roads, roads, roads, I’m constantly hearing about roads,” said Gambin-Walsh, who added that millions of provincial dollars have gone towards roads in the district over the years, but there are still roads that need to be done. Access to general and nurse practitioners is also an issue. “Another thing I’m hearing about, and this is something I’m experiencing myself, as my son is an individual with autism, is the access to GP’s,” said Gambin-Walsh. “People are having difficulty accessing GPs, and they’re having difficulty even accessing nurse practitioners to meet their needs.” Gambin-Walsh said constituents who do have access to family doctors and have been availing of virtual appointments during the pandemic have been mostly satisfied with the service, but there are still too many people without proper access to healthcare. “I have a number of constituents in my district who do not have access to a GP, and that is a problem, that is a huge problem,” Gambin-Walsh admitted. She said constituents haven’t raised concerns about her removal from cabinet last year following an RCMP investigation that showed she broke cabinet confidentially by leaking information regarding a promotion in the RNC. She was not charged, but Premier Andrew Furey did not reappoint her to cabinet. “With this RCMP investigation, constituents are not interested at all,” said Gambin-Walsh. “I was prepared and offering to answer questions at the door to my constituents directly, but they don’t want to hear about it, they don’t want to talk about it, they’re not interested.” Gambin-Walsh said constituents are, however, eager to hear details about her involvement in 2018 bullying allegations against former Liberal MHA Eddie Joyce. At the time Joyce, seen by many political watchers as perhaps the loyalist Liberal in the province having relinquished his seat in 1989 so Clyde Wells could serve in the legislature as Premier, was serving as Minister of Municipal Affairs and charged with making tough decisions about a sea of demands coming in from MHAs for funding from their towns. Gambin-Walsh said constituents are happy that she spoke up against Joyce, and that some have even gone so far as to read the official reports. After then Premier Dwight Ball allegedly failed to keep a private promise to back Joyce against the charges of bullying, he left the Liberal party and sat as an Independent, getting re-elected without party affiliation in 2019. “The 2018 situation with MHA Joyce, that got get a bit of attention, and people were very curious and did ask me a fair bit about that. They are interested in bullying and harassment though. And they’re happy that I spoke up against it,” said Gambin-Walsh. “When I look at my social media, my Twitter and my Facebook, when I see anyone saying something negative, when I check out their account, it’s ether a troll account or the person doesn’t live in my district.”. As to Furey, Gambin-Walsh said he is a more than capable leader. She added that despite cries from the PC and NDP that Furey should not have called the election during a pandemic or during the winter, people are actually more engaged in this election than in previous years. “I am finding that people are more interested in this election than they were in ’15 and ’19,” she said. “This time, people are truly interested in what’s happening with COVID, they’re interested in the economy, they’re interested in chatting with me and getting my opinion… I think, now I could be wrong, but I think we’re going to have a very high turn out by the end of this election.” Gambin-Walsh said there’s been another noticeable difference in this year’s campaign. “I can’t keep a sign up. I have about 50 signs gone. They’re destroyed. People have called and said they’re beat up and up in the dump,” said Gambin-Walsh, adding some constituents have had to display their signs in shed windows for fear of having them removed — again. “I’ve been firm in telling my volunteers not to touch the other signs, regardless of the number of signs we lose. Just keep going… this is not going to slow us down.” Voters will choose between Gambin-Walsh, PC candidate Calvin Manning, and NL Alliance hopeful Clem Whittle. Mark Squibb, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Shoreline News
PARIS — A rare painting by Dutch impressionist master Vincent van Gogh of a street scene in the Parisian neighbourhood of Montmartre will be publicly displayed for the first time before its auction next month. Sotheby's auction house said the work, painted in 1887, has remained in the same family collection for more than 100 years — out of the public eye. It will be exhibited next month in Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Paris ahead of an auction scheduled on March 25 in the French capital. “It’s an important painting in the oeuvre of Vincent van Gogh because it dates from the period in which he’s living in Paris with his brother, Theo," Etienne Hellman, senior director of Impressionist and Modern Art at Sotheby's, told the Associated Press. Van Gogh moved to Paris in 1886 and lived in Montmartre. He left the capital in 1888 for southern France, where he lived until his death in 1890. “Before this, his paintings are much darker... In Paris he discovers colour,” Hellman said. “Colour blows up into the painting." “Street Scene in Montmartre” depicts a windmill named the Pepper Mill, seen from the street under a bright sky, with a man, a women and a little girl walking in front of wooden palisades that surrounded the place. “Paris marks this period where... the major impressionists influence his work,” Hellman said. Sotheby’s said the painting has been published in seven catalogues before but has never been exhibited. Claudia Mercier, auctioneer of Mirabaud Mercier house, said “it is also an important painting because there are very, very few of them remaining in private hands... especially from that period, most are in museums now.” Sotheby's has estimated the painting’s value between 5 and 8 million euros (between $6.1 and $9.8 million). It which did not reveal the identity of the owner. It will be on display in Amsterdam on March 1-3, Hong-King on March 9-12 and Paris on March 16-23. The Pepper Mill was destroyed during the construction of an avenue in 1911, but two similar windmills are still present today on the Montmartre hill. Sylvie Corbet And Oleg Cetinic, The Associated Press
As the branches of Muskoka’s three township's libraries prepare to reopen to the public, use of their services are more in demand than ever. Across the region, public libraries are adjusting to new operations in the time of COVID-19, including increased online services and curbside pickup at some locations. On Monday, the provincial government permitted libraries to reopen with “limited on-site services, such as computer access and contactless book pickup and drop-off.” Patrons are not to handle books or materials on shelves. Cathy Fairbairn, CEO of Lake of Bays Township Public Library, operating branches in Baysville and Dwight, said curbside pickup has been a hit with patrons and demand is steadily increasing. “It’s taking us a lot longer to get the items out the door because we stand and chat with them,” she said of the library’s users. “It feels like people are coming home.” To ensure the health and safety of staff and patrons the library is collecting return items on a separate cart that is stored for 72 hours before staff touch it. Turnaround time for materials is a little longer, Fairbairn said, but users understand. Plexiglas barriers are being installed, separate doors will be designated for entering and exiting and public computers will be cleaned following each use. Unfortunately, some of the toys in the kids section will be put away, “which is sad, but we have to be safe,” Fairbairn said. In March, Lake of Bays Township council approved funding for subscriptions to media streaming sites like Hoopla and Canopy which offer ebooks, audio books and comics as well as television and films. “The timing could not have been better,” said Fairbairn. As a result of the pandemic, new digital programming has also been popular among families, as library staff have pivoted to online formats. “The response to those videos has been overwhelming,” Fairbairn said, citing more than 1,000 views on some posts, “which is way more than we can reach if we’re inside our walls.” At the Georgian Bay Township Public Library, the MacTier and Port Severn branches are also offering curbside pickup and calls for the service are growing, said CEO Tracey Fitchett. “The libraries have continued to grow their collections in order to keep reading materials and movies up-to-date,” Fitchett said in an email to this newspaper. One of the unfortunate downsides the pandemic has presented is the halting of sales of used books and movies, an important source of revenue for library budgets, Fitchett explained. Forgiven fines for late returns have also affected revenue, leaving a significant impact on the library, she added. Opening a library where patrons are unable to touch the materials is a difficult thing to do, said Cathy Duck, CEO of Muskoka Lakes Public Library. For the last four weeks the Port Carling branch has offered curbside pickup and staff are busy filling requests. Duck said phase two of reopening doesn’t change much at her library where the doors will not open to the public for some time yet. “Typically in the summertime we are the community information centre, the community washroom, so if our doors are open we have to be prepared for that as well,” she said. “It’s not just about the library.” Duck’s branches regularly provide senior and children’s programming that draw people from across the Township. “We were a very vibrant library here,” she explained. “We’re all missing that.” Staff have moved some services, like story time, online but, recognize not everyone has access to the internet which can be a challenge. “A lot of our users are hard copy book users, they’re not electronic users.” To keep patrons up-to-date the library uses its website and social platforms but it also has a forthcoming community survey, to be delivered with Mayor Phil Harding’s newsletter, to gauge how services are being received. “It was part of our library strategic plan,” said Duck. “But because of how things are now, it’s morphed into a pandemic plan.” At press time an official reopening date is still to be determined as Fairbairn consults with the library board and sets further precautions, but she knows people are anxious to visit. “For seniors in our area, the library is a huge part of their social life." In the meantime, staff is working on compiling a list of work by Black authors and other relevant materials, anticipating requests in light of anti-racism protests occurring across the world. Kristyn Anthony reports for Muskokaregion.com through the Local Journalism Initiative, a program funded by the Canadian government. Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine task force, says vaccinations of Ontarians in certain age categories are likely to move more quickly than initially planned.
Alberta is below the threshold of hospitalizations to move forward with step two of the provincial plans to lift COVID-19-related restrictions, but no decisions will be made until March 1 at the earliest. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, noted on Feb. 22 that cases of COVID-19 increased in the couple days prior. With that in mind, the province is taking the full three weeks to assess data and come up with the best way forward. “We are being cautious, as it is too early to say if this recent increase is significant or but a temporary pause in the strong downward trend we have seen over the past several months,” Hinshaw said. Step two requires fewer hospitalizations than 450 with declining cases and would allow the potential reopening of retail, banquet halls, community halls, conference centres, hotels, and further easing of indoor fitness and children’s sport and performance. There were 326 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 51 in intensive care on Feb. 23, and 4,516 active cases remaining in the province. The province stated earlier in January that it would give businesses a heads up on when they may be able to reopen, which may not be the case as the province considers step two. “While the decision will be made at the earliest on March 1, I’m not able to say with certainty exactly when that would be implemented. It could be as early as that same day or it could be that a decision is made with some lag time for businesses to prepare for opening,” Hinshaw said on Feb. 23. Metrics based on cases and growth, including COVID-19 variants, are being monitored and will be used to guide any decisions around the restrictions, including easing, pausing, or increasing them. Alberta implemented the four-step plan to ease public health restrictions based on hospitalization benchmarks in January. Once hospitalizations are within range of the benchmark, decisions to move to the next step are considered. Moving between steps will happen at least three weeks apart to assess the impact on case rates. Health measures such as hand-washing, wearing a mask in public, keeping two-metres apart, staying home, and getting tested when sick will remain in place throughout each step. There has been a sharp decline in cases among residents in long term facilities, totalling 92 per cent from early January until now. Designated living facilities also saw a decline of 88 per cent since December. Within schools, the province has noted a 63 per cent decrease in cases since schools reopened in January. And there has also been a steady decline in fatalities in recent months. Hinshaw noted that while these are positive trends, cases are starting to plateau instead of dropping with steady numbers of new variant cases. The Town of Hinton stated that they are continuing to provide services to citizens safely and allowing one-on-one appointments when necessary, following the provincial health guidelines. With ice being removed from one rink at the Dr. Duncan Murray Recreation Centre, the Town is working at introducing additional activity options based on the provincial health guidelines. Activities will soon be announced via the Town of Hinton’s Facebook and website, including opening the Steve Hotchkiss Arena, the court area, and the pool for private use by appointment, stated Faiaz Mir, Hinton’s communications coordinator. The Steve Hotchkiss Arena ice surface will stay in till the end of spring break. On Friday, Feb. 18, Health Minister Tyler Shandro spoke to Albertans about improvements regarding contact tracing. He said there are more than 2,300 contact tracers working to investigate every positive case. “Since Jan. 9, we’ve been contacting and investigating all COVID-19 cases that we receive each day,” Shandro said. Within 24 hours of results, the contact tracers have been able to contact and investigate about 1,500 cases per day. They work with businesses, schools, and operators to collect contact information. As of Feb. 23, there were 301 variant cases identified in Alberta, which has a dedicated investigation team working to isolate each case. Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice
Those with children in school are probably already aware that on Friday the province updated its COVID-19 screening tool to include changes to symptom screening criteria. Now if a single symptom is selected in the screening tool, children must stay home and get tested. Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) said the new direction from the province is set because of concerns related to the new variants of COVID-19 which can spread more easily, Young Hoon added. “In order to use case and contact management as a tool it’s important to isolate contacts as soon as possible,” Young Hoon said. “If they have symptoms they need to isolate and get tested and household members need to isolate as well while the test results come back.” Young Hoon adds that once those results are negative, the child may return to school but if the results are positive, then they become a case and that requires some different actions. Young Hoon said there have been concerns brought forward of a business refusing service because of someone’s race. The NWHU does not collect comprehensive data on the matter, Young Hoon said, adding that regardless, it is important to recognize that this is not an issue that is specific to race because COVID is not a visible virus. “We encourage kindness at this time and remind the public that the outbreak situations are not unique to our area,” Young Hoon said. “No one should be blamed or mistreated for having COVID-19. As residents of northwestern Ontario, we must come together to be supportive and caring especially for those who need it the most.” Young Hoon said businesses should be concerned with following their safety plan and prevention measures, adding that if they follow all measures required, there should be very little risk of contracting COVID-19 at a business. There are currently 91 active COVID-19 cases in the region. There are three in the Dryden/ Red Lake area, 82 in Kenora region, one in the Rainy River region and five in the Sioux Lookout region. One new case was reported in Sioux Lookout on Tuesday. For the week of Feb. 15 to Feb. 21, there were 85 new confirmed cases. There were 77 in the Kenora area, four in Sioux Lookout, three in the Dryden area and one in Fort Frances. Two new hospitalizations also occurred. Young Hoon said most cases were close contacts of previous cases or related to an outbreak. The source of exposure remains unknown for a small number of these cases. The NWHU has identified 124 people who had high risk close contact with the 85 new confirmed cases. Despite the high rates of COVID-19, Young Hoon said the region is still in the yellow level because most of the cases are affecting only one community in the Kenora region. Young Hoon adds that if there was suggestion of spread beyond that community, then they would need to think about changing the colour code. “We’re beginning to see the early signs that it could be decreasing so I think right now we just need to monitor the situation and stay the course with public health measures,” Young Hoon said. “I don’t want to pin down an exact timeline because this is a large number of cases, it doesn’t just go away.” Young Hoon said conversations about the colour code will be happening over the course of this week. Young Hoon reminds residents that just because the region is in the yellow level of the province's response framework, it does not mean things are back to normal, or that the risk is low. “People still need to stay two metres away from anyone they do not live with and just because there are indoor gatherings of up to 10 people allowed, it doesn’t mean they are recommended,” Young Hoon said. “The public is reminded that anyone breaking gathering limits can be fined.” Young Hoon said the NWHU also does not recommend non-essential travel to a region that is in a different framework level from the NWHU. As for vaccines, there are no updates but Young Hoon said they are expecting to deliver the second dose of the vaccine with the next shipment they receive. In addition, they will be looking at distributing the vaccine to the highest priority health care workers as outlined by the provincial government. Natali Trivuncic, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times