NORTH WELLINGTON – The mayors in north Wellington County are concerned for the Old Order Mennonite community after an order shut down their churches and schools, but are positive it’s the right step to halt further spread of COVID.
Dr. Nicola Mercer, medical officer of health and CEO of WDG Public Health, issued a Section 22 order on Thursday closing Old Order Mennonite churches and schools as COVID cases grow in that community and adherence to public health guidelines has been low.
The Old Order Mennonite community in Wellington County is centred in the Township of Mapleton, Township of Wellington North and Town of Minto.
Minto mayor George Bridge said in a phone interview that public health had informed him earlier in the week that there were some issues in the Old Order Mennonite community.
Bridge said the Section 22 order is unfortunate but he supports the action to keep the community at large safe.
“Like anything else, whether it’s the Mennonite community or somebody else in our community that isn’t following the rules, public health certainly looks at it and tries their best to get them to follow the rules,” Bridge said.
“If they don’t, that’s what Dr. Mercer has to do to keep us all safe.”
Gregg Davidson, Mapleton mayor, said he found out about this by email yesterday and the town had no prior interaction with Public Health in regards to this.
He said he knows the Section 22 order may have the public concerned.
“Any time when we have an order like this, it starts to make you wonder what is going on,” Davidson said. “I assure all the public that public health is doing their best to make sure that COVID is not spread throughout the community.”
Wellington North mayor Andy Lennox also said that the township isn’t involved but understands public health is doing what they feel is necessary to fix issues within that community.
“I’m not entirely clear on what all the issues are but I’m confident public health is dealing with those issues,” Lennox said.
“I don’t think it’s the path anybody really wanted to go down but this may be what’s necessary to try to make sure we’re keeping community members safe.”
Bridge said he was surprised to hear about this. He stressed that the town has always had positive interactions with the Old Order Mennonite community when it comes to municipal issues such as building and zoning rules and regulations.
Some members even serve on committees in the Town of Minto.
“I don’t know what happened here. I’m not involved it’s public health driving the bus on this one,” Bridge said.
Davidson said the Old Order Mennonites have been very respectful of how the township office and staff are operating during the pandemic.
He said when building inspectors go out to a property, those present are asked to wear a face covering or to leave the area.
“We have good compliance a majority of the time in these aspects,” Davidson said in regards to the Old Order Mennonite community.
Davidson said he knows this community is very religious and an order shutting down their churches will affect them tremendously.
“I really hope the elders of that community and public health can come to an agreement very shortly and they can open up their churches again,” Davidson said.
Bridge said he doesn’t want the general public to have a bad view of Mennonites as this isn’t reflective of their entire community.
“It’s a small percentage that’s causing the problem and I don’t want everybody painted with the same brush,” Bridge said, adding that there are people outside of the Old Order Mennonite community who are not following public health guidelines either.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com