‘It doesn’t have to be this way’: Morden mayor frustrated with rising COVID-19 cases, low vaccine uptake

·4 min read

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Manitoba, The Mayor of Morden is speaking out against those who refuse to get vaccinated, because he says people who won’t get the shot are choosing to put their own wants before the health and safety of others and the health and safety of children.

“If there are people that don’t want to get vaccinated and that decision wouldn’t affect other people then go right ahead, go ahead and get sick and maybe lose your life if that’s what you want to do,” a frustrated Morden Mayor Brandon Burley said on Wednesday.

“But it’s more than about what people want to do individually, it downloads to such a huge degree on other people and other systems. It affects our health-care systems, it affects our school systems and it affects so many others.”

Burley said his frustration was high this week after he received multiple email messages from his children’s Morden-based school and school division on Monday about students who have been in close contact with two of his daughters testing positive for COVID-19.

“I receive an email anytime someone in one of my daughter’s classes has a positive case and at one point on Monday the emails were coming in so fast that I thought something was wrong with my email server,” Burley said.

He said he has also spoken to many who work in the school system in his area that have told him confidentially that children are regularly coming to Morden-based schools with COVID-19 symptoms and being sent home.

“I know that there are kids that are coming in coughing and wheezing and showing all the symptoms and the teachers are the ones saying ‘you can’t be here, you need to go home.’

“And I give the schools and the school board a whole lot of credit because they are doing a really good job of sending kids home who are sick and not wavering from that.”

Burley, who has been the mayor of Morden for about three years, has been actively urging Morden residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and he said he has lost lifelong relationships in the community because of his stance on vaccines.

“This is not a popular message to be standing up for personally and as far as I know my wife and I are the only ones in either of our families who are vaccinated,” Burley said. “My own sister was in an anti-vaccine parade that came right by my house, so that shows how divided it has become.

“And there are friends I have met up with for drinks for years and I doubt we will ever get together again and it’s not that I am not willing but I am just convinced it’s not going to happen because the divide has just become too strong.”

Burley said he is also frustrated by “antagonists” in his and neighbouring communities who are actively pushing for people not to get vaccinated and sometimes doing it in ways meant to intimidate others.

“It’s frustrating because often when you get some of these people alone they are willing to listen, but unfortunately there are people in their other ear who are much louder.”

Manitoba announced 143 new positive COVID-19 cases in the province on Wednesday, and 66 of those cases were out of the province’s Southern Health region where Morden is located, and which has a lower vaccination uptake than the provincial average.

According to Burley the town of Morden has an approximately 71% vaccine uptake, which is higher than some neighbouring communities including the town of Winkler and the RM of Stanley, but he said that uptake number in Morden is no cause for celebration and he worries about what is coming this winter.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do here, and it’s frustrating because you still see those case numbers rising,” Burley said.

“It’s frustrating because it doesn’t have to be this way.”

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to the Morden-based Western School Division for comment, but so far have not received a response.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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