With the provincial stay-at-home order lifting earlier this week and the Blue Mountain Resort opening its outdoor attractions today, it is safe to say many cottagers and visitors are Blue-Mountain bound.
“I don't really get concerned about the people that come up here to their second homes or the visitors, as the vast majority of the visitors that come here behave responsibly,” said Alar Soever, mayor of the Town of The Blue Mountains (TBM).
“I think it's more important how people behave when they're here, rather than where they're from.”
Soever said that he doesn’t think telling visitors to stay away will help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and would rather "cautiously welcome" the visitors with control and enforcement measures in place.
“I think people are going to come regardless of what message you give them,” he said. “And the person that comes anyway, are they going to listen to anything else you say if you told them to stay away in the first place?
“Whereas if you say, ‘if you're coming, just be kind, follow all the protocols, and do your part to keep everyone safe’...they're far more likely to absorb and respect that message.”
He said he is aware that there may be permanent residents who are nervous or have some reservations about the slow reopening of the region.
“I'm aware of people's feelings. But you know, we deal in facts here,” Soever said. “And the fact is that over the last summer, if you look at our number of cases per 1,000 population, we did a lot better than most parts of Grey County and certainly better than Collingwood, Clearview and Wasaga Beach.”
TBM has seen a total of 141 cases of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic - the third highest case count in Grey County behind Owen Sound (237) and Southgate (161).
TBM currently has one active case, which was reported on June 3.
Soever said that through contact tracing conducted by the Grey Bruce Health Unit (GBHU) there has also been no documented transmission in the Blue Mountains Village or any of TBM’s other tourist-related businesses.
“There has been no transmission to the staff or other customers that they could document and we had a very low case rate. I think a lot of that is due to the very strict protocols that were in place at the village. In particular, the village did an excellent job requiring masks in excess of our indoor mask bylaw,” Soever said.
TBM has had a mandatory face covering bylaw in place since Dec. 14, which requires face coverings in all indoor and enclosed spaces accessible to the public.
The Blue Mountain Resort took the face covering bylaw to the next level, requiring mask use at all times on the property - including outdoors. The resort’s personal responsibility code also asks guests to maintain physical distancing and follow the one-way navigation signage.
“The vast majority of cases here have all been related to social gathering. People having parties,” Soever continued. “The businesses, the health unit, and all of our residents have done a really good job.”
Since the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health for the GBHU ha,s repeatedly said the majority of transmissions in the region have stemmed from private gatherings.
“Transmission is happening when people lower their guard. And that generally happens when the situation is not regulated. It's generally when we gather with family and friends. If we lower our guard, we're going to be exposed to it,” Arra said in a previous interview.
“It's easy to say, 'let's restrict travel from other areas' and that's going to keep us safe. Well, as long as each one of us is taking care of our own setting, our own person, our own business - whether people come from a different area or not - it's not as important,” Arra continued.
Soever said he was happy with how the town managed the pandemic situation last summer and doesn’t anticipate making any major operational changes.
“We are doing what it takes to keep our community safe,” he said. “Our approach last year was the very same and we had among the lowest case rates in the region. I think if something worked, you know, we'll do it again.”
He added that the one thing the town is hoping to improve on this summer season is parking enforcement.
“We're going to be a little more proactive in the problem areas that were identified last summer. But other than that, it's just minor adjustments, because we're very pleased with our low case rates for last year,” Soever said.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca