The Town of Hearst has declared a state of emergency to make residents aware the COVID-19 situation is “serious,” says the town’s mayor.
“It really is to send a message to the community that be careful, (the virus) is in town now and the only way we’re going to fight this is all together,” said Mayor Roger Sigouin. “It’s a warning to the population.”
Since the start of October, there have been nine cases confirmed in the Hearst, Hornepayne area. There have been 11 cases in total in that area: one case reported in August, one in September, eight in October and one in November.
Of the eight known active cases in the Porcupine Health Unit area six are in Hearst, Hornepayne, and two are outside the region.
The state of emergency was issued on Halloween. It strong recommended against trick-or-treating and urged residents to avoid Halloween gatherings.
“We had a big event for Halloween in town, we had to cancel everything to let people know how serious it is,” Sigouin said. “If people don’t take care of themselves and respect each other, we could have more closures.”
The Porcupine Health Unit office in Hearst is temporarily closed due to an outbreak after two employees tested positive. Public Health Ontario data has a total of three cases associated to the outbreak.
Four classes at the Hearst French Catholic high school are in isolation. The school is open.
People have also been warned of potential exposure to the virus at Rick's Muscle World Centre gym in Hearst on Tuesday, Oct. 20 and Wednesday, Oct. 21 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. People who were at the gym during those times are being asked to monitor for 14 days, which ends Wednesday, Nov. 4 or Thursday, Nov. 5.
So far, schools and businesses remain open in the community, the mayor said, adding the state of emergency will stay in effect for “a while” until the situation is stable.
“From there, we’ll see,” he said. “If we don’t do anything now, maybe you’re not even going to have Christmas this year. If we don’t take care of it now, maybe you won’t be able to go camping next summer.”
The mayor said he had several calls from local business owners telling him they don’t want to close down.
“You don’t want to close your business, you don’t want to close the industry. But if we don’t have any chance, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Sigouin. “We have to be careful until we have good heads up from the Porcupine Health Unit.”
Sigouin said it’s a “war” residents have to fight together by wearing masks, washing hands and respecting physical distancing.
“We don’t want to stop kids from going to school, that’s the last thing we want to happen. We still want to have a life for kids to go to the arena, to pool and all that, but to a certain point where it’s going to be possible.”
With the increase in number of cases in Hearst, PHU medical officer of health Dr. Lianne Catton released enhanced precautions for people in the community. Read her recommendations here.
To date, in the Porcupine Health Unit region there have been 99 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Of those, 82 are recovered and nine people have died.
To access COVID-19 testing, call your health care provider or the health unit.
The COVID-19 information line can be reached at 705-267-1181 or 1-800-461-1818.
There are COVID-19 assessment centres in Timmins, Cochrane, Iroquois Falls, Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, Hearst, and Hornepayne.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com