Counties state of emergency still in effect

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Ontario’s COVID-19 state of emergency ended with little fanfare last week, and the local county government is ready to follow suit – but “there’s a twist to it,” says Warden Pat Sayeau.

The United Counties of Leeds and Grenville council is currently unable to meet virtually and officially have a quorum unless there is either a provincial or local state of emergency in effect, said Sayeau.

“The provincial one is gone, but there’s still a counties state of emergency in effect,” he added.

“We can’t end our state of emergency until we’ve amended our procedural bylaw.”

While the warden expects that to happen later this month, the region will continue to operate under strict measures aimed at preventing further spread of the coronavirus, including a new requirement for restaurants and bars to keep client logs.

Sayeau first declared the state of emergency on April 8, “in order to reinforce the importance of social distancing” during what was then the coming Easter long weekend as the COVID-19 pandemic was in the early stages of its devastating first wave.


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A few other area municipalities also declared states of emergency, although Brockville opted not to take that step.

In June, counties council decided to maintain the state of emergency despite the gradual easing of provincial restrictions on the region, arguing at that time that lifting it would send the wrong message.

But now, with most of the province in Stage Three of the recovery from the pandemic, the provincial state of emergency is no longer in effect, having ended July 29.

Locally, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit’s latest COVID-19 update, dating back to last Thursday, notes no new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the tri-county area since July 11.

There were no active cases in the region, which has so far recorded a total of 355 lab-confirmed COVID cases. That total include 52 fatalities and 303 recovered. There was no new update on Monday because of the civic holiday.

On Friday, the Town of Perth ended its state of emergency.

“The removal of the town’s state of emergency falls in line with the ending of the Ontario state of emergency,” town officials noted in a statement.

“While all the health measures around the COVID-19 pandemic remain in place, it is time to move cautiously into the recovery phase,” said Perth Mayor John Fenik.

“Everyone must continue to wear masks in public indoor places, follow social distancing guidelines and wash their hands regularly.”

Sayeau notes that, even when the county council lifts its own state of emergency, that won’t mean the end of prevention measures in the area.


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“We’re closing in on a month without a new case, but we’re still pretty much guided by the health unit requirements,” said the warden.

While this region is now also in Stage Three, the tri-county health unit remains part of a broader Eastern Ontario area where the wearing of masks is required in indoor public spaces.

Public health officials have said they want area residents to stay vigilant in the face of an expected second wave of the disease.

On Friday, the health unit began enforcing stricter measures from the provincial health ministry governing restaurants, bars and similar establishments.

Among the new measures, bars, restaurants and tour boat operators across Ontario are required to keep client logs for a period of 30 days.

They are required to disclose those client logs to the area’s medical officer of health or a health inspector on request, a measure aimed at supporting case and contact tracing, according to provincial officials.

Sayeau, who is also mayor of Edwardsburgh Cardinal Township, said his five-person council has mostly managed to stay in its chamber over the course of the pandemic.

“We haven’t missed a council meeting yet. We did the safe distancing with the desks,” said Sayeau.

One meeting had to take place at the Ingredion Centre in Cardinal because more than 50 members of the public were expected, said Sayeau. The chairs were spaced well apart for that meeting and people had to wear masks until they were in their seats.