'A lot of quiet heroes' on Pelee Island during global COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic creates massive change across the world, people continue to lean on the skills needed to survive on an island only accessible by air for part of the year. 

The popular tourist destination for Canadians and Americans reverts back to a small community of about 150 people, many of the age of 60, for four months of winter. 

Once the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, people living on the island started taking their responsibility to each other seriously, according to Melissa Evers who manages the Pelee Island Co-op.

"For many of the Islanders, this is what we train for every winter."

'Panic buying' on mainland effecting island orders

Evers, who when reached by CBC News was in the middle of coordinating a grocery pick-up for someone self-isolating after recent international travel, said people are helping each other during the pandemic. 

"Stock is running low but for the most part everybody kinda just pulls together. 'I have a little extra this, you have a little extra that,' and we make it work," said Evers.

Most people on Pelee Island prepare for fourth months of winter when the ferry stops running with large hauls of groceries and essentials in November. 

Evers, who has watched in awe as shelves at grocery stores on the mainland sit bare at times, is feeling the ripple effect of what she calls panic shopping in larger communities at the co-op.

Those who are hoarding are hurting the people on Pelee Island.

"If it does break on Pelee, it could be very detrimental." - Melissa Evers, Manager of Pelee Island Co-op

"I put in the orders for our bread, milk and produce and sometimes, the last two weeks, they haven't been one hundred percent fulfilled. By panic buying you're creating this huge gap and now it's going to take a while for everything to catch up."

State of Emergency declared

As of Monday afternoon, no one on Pelee Island had tested positive for COVID-19 and community leaders are praising the community for their continued support of each other.

"Proud of the roughly 155 residents who call Pelee home year round," wrote the community's deputy mayor David Dawson in a message to CBC Windsor.

"People are being respectful of the guidelines set out by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, Provincial and Federal Government."

Pelee Island declared a State of Emergency on Monday, following in the steps of larger communities in Essex County and across Ontario.

Healthcare options limited

Dawson urged people to continue listening to the guidance from public health officials around staying home after international travel and avoiding non-essential travel. 

"The Ministry of Transportation of Ontario and Pelee need to establish clear guidance on non-essential travel to the Island in the near term. We do not want to increase exposure risks at this time," wrote Dawson. 

While Pelee Island is accessible by plane, ferry service is set to return on April 1, creating a unique challenge for a community with an economy that relies on tourism and includes a large population that may be look at riding out COVID-19 on the island. 

"We have that air of 'Pelee's probably the safest place to be," said Evers, who said most healthcare appointments are handling on the mainland with paramedics and a registered nurse on Pelee Island. 

"We don't have many hospital rooms, we have a triage room basically. Anything that is bigger, generally speaking you go to the mainland to get taking care of."

Evers said that's why it's so important that people continue to limit social interactions as they return home from international travel.

"If it does break on Pelee, it could be very detrimental."

Pride of Pelee Island

Both Dawson and Evers were quick to highlight the work the community is doing to look after each other.

Dawson said that there are "good news stories" popping up hourly and had high praise for the way the community is reacting.

"A lot of quiet heroes on the Island who have stepped up to do the right thing."

"The level of pride in our community right now is astounding and everybody is for the most part keeping level-headed," said Evers, adding there's a continued effort to protect the many people who are 60 or older living on the island. 

"You look around and you have folks offering to do things for other folks so that they don't have to be concerned for themselves."