A group of eastern Ontario municipal leaders is calling on residents to respect self-isolation and physical distancing rules as they step up measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell and the City of Cornwall jointly declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon.
It will allow the municipal governments to deploy resources such as staff and equipment more rapidly to help the medical system deal with an expected surge of sick patients.
Pierre Leroux, warden of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, said it gives weight to many of the prevention guidelines in the pandemic, including staying at home as much as possible and avoiding non-essential outings.
"We do have some covidiots out there who are putting all our efforts in jeopardy and we need to get this message out loud and clear," said Leroux, using a portmanteau of COVID-19 and 'idiots' to describe people who fail to respect physical distancing measures.
"We all need to be working together since we're all facing this incredible situation together."
Community spread and travellers
There are currently only four confirmed cases of COVID-19 in those jurisdictions, with over 300 tests still awaiting results.
But public health officials are worried the virus is now spreading both from residents returning from travels abroad and within the community from one individual to another.
"The time is now to flatten the curve and slow the spread of this virus," said Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement on the phone call with reporters.
"The health of our community will be determined by the actions of each and every one of us, and we're calling upon all residents to do the right thing."
"Our population really is a vulnerable population — higher elderly, higher chronic diseases — I think it is very important for us to act collectively," said Paul Roumeliotis, the medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit.
The City of Kingston and the counties of Frontenac and North Frontenac also declared states of emergency Thursday, while Ottawa's mayor declared one on Wednesday.