Simcoe Muskoka health unit recorded 40 new COVID-19 cases, eight hospitalizations Friday

It’s not what is typically meant by ending the work week on a high note. The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit reported on its website Aug. 27 an additional 40 COVID-19 cases. At 23.5, Simcoe-Muskoka region hasn’t reached a seven-day caseload average this high since the end of May. New Tecumseth had 11. Barrie (eight), Innisfil (seven), Essa (five), Orillia (three), Bradford and Wasaga Beach (two each) and Clearview and Tay (one each) were also listed. Fourteen residents 17 years of age and under fell ill; everyone else was between 18 and 79. Two cases were linked to travel. Sources of infection Friday otherwise range from “close contact” and “outbreak-related” to “community-acquired” and “under investigation.” Of today’s incidents, 32 were among unvaccinated residents, while partially- and fully-vaccinated people accounted for five and three, respectively.   There are 182 known active cases in the region, including eight hospitalizations (three of which are being treated in intensive care). Seventy-seven of the active incidents are likely variants.  Outbreaks have also been reported at four Simcoe County locations in recent days — a childcare centre (six cases), a repair and maintenance site (six), a food and beverage service (five) and a fitness and recreation sports facility (three). But on a , there are a few alarm bells ringing. Only 2,197 vaccine doses were handed out yesterday, continuing a downward trend that started at the beginning of July. The region’s COVID-19 reproduction number is at 1.2 (anything above one means case numbers are growing) and only 74 per cent of confirmed cases and 69.5 per cent of high-risk contacts are being reached by health unit staff within a day (the goal for both is 90 per cent or higher). Simcoe and Muskoka District have positive test rates of 1.6 and 1.1 per cent, below the provincial average of 2.3. But the local numbers have been slowly climbing since early July. Overall, 832,107 vaccine doses have been administered in the region, with 431,728 people — or 71 per cent of the population — receiving at least one shot. About 64.8 per cent of locals are fully inoculated. To date, 4,007 Alpha (discovered in the U.K.), 422 Delta (discovered in India), 167 Gamma (discovered in Brazil), and 34 Beta (discovered in South Africa) variant cases have been confirmed. Additionally, 662 passed the first stage of the two-step mutation test and are subject to genome sequencing to determine the strain. Since the start of the pandemic, 12,762 residents have contracted the virus, though 12,324 successfully recovered. A total of 256 local have succumbed to COVID-19. For more on the local effect of the virus, or to book a vaccination, visit .

Collingwood targets tax rate increase below one per cent

Collingwood councillors are aiming to keep the 2022 tax rate increase below one per cent. According to an initial outline of the municipality’s 2022 budget, the town’s treasurer, Monica Quinlan, told council’s strategic initiatives committee that staff are proposing to collect about $1 million more in taxes in 2022, which would equal an increase in operational spending of about 2.5 per cent over the $35.1 million collected in 2021. It would equate to an increase in the rate applied to the MPAC-assessed value of a property by just under one per cent. Given the current circumstances, the committee determined that keeping the tax rate increase below one per cent was appropriate — though Mayor Brian Saunderson threw out a caution. “That can change dramatically based on what we think we need and where we are right now,” he said, noting inflation rates, depending on the sector of the economy, are “extremely volatile.” In her report, Quinlan noted the town’s assessment base has grown by about 1.75 per cent, year-over-year. On the cost side, the consumer price index has increased by 3.5 per cent, driven largely by energy costs and construction. Quinlan said there are a number of council resolutions approved in 2021 that need to be incorporated into the budget, along with a market review of the salary grid and an assessment of the pandemic and “how that might impact operations over the next year.” A public survey on the budget has been launched on the town’s online engagement portal, , and will be open until mid- to late September. The budget will be back for more discussion at the Oct. 4 strategic initiatives meeting. Staff are expected to present any major changes and projects at that time. Over the next three months, council and staff are expected to work through three drafts, with formal approval of the budget not expected until December.

Angus man dies in single-vehicle collision in Innisfil, police looking for witnesses

Police are looking for witnesses after a 45-year-old Angus man died in a single-vehicle collision in Innisfil yesterday (Aug. 29). According to police, they were called at 9:30 p.m. to a single-vehicle collision in the area of Sideroad 10 and Line 2 in Innisfil. The vehicle involved in the collision is a white, 2008 Mazda 3. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene. Police said he was the only person in the vehicle.  The investigation is ongoing. Police are looking for witnesses and anyone with dash camera footage. Anyone with information is asked to contact Const. Jessica Irwin at , , extension 2030, or . 

Planned protest outside of RVH in Barrie today

Patients and visitors planning to go to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre should be aware a peaceful protest has been organized outside of the hospital today (Sept. 13). What is being called a ‘silent vigil’ has been planned at various hospitals across the country by an organization named Canadian Frontline Nurses. They are meant to show their disagreement of public health measures being used to curb the spread of COVID-19. The protest is expected to take place at 2 p.m. Hospital spokesperson Donna Danyluk said patients should not be alarmed, but should give themselves extra time to get inside for their appointments this afternoon. In a Tweet, Barrie police said they are aware of the protest and will have officers there “to ensure hospital operations are not affected and the safety of the public, hospital staff, patients and visitors is maintained.” Both the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and Ontario Medical Association issued a statement that is “strongly condemning” the planned disruptions. “We respect democracy and the rights of people to protest but these must not be held anywhere where they block entry and exit to health-care facilities, especially access for emergency vehicles or patients seeking emergency care,” they said in a joint statement.

Innisfil restaurant owner thinks vaccine passport will lead to awkward situations with customers

Robert Saunders, owner of The Cove Café in Innisfil, is not looking forward to asking his customers for their personal identification and proof of vaccination.  He wants to get back to the business of running his restaurant, but the province’s plan to implement a vaccine certificate program feels like something that will lead to awkward situations with customers. “You’re asking somebody a personal question, ‘Are you vaccinated or not vaccinated? Can I see your ID to make sure that ID matches your vaccination record?’ I think that is very personal,” he said.  The province’s plan, which comes into effect Sept. 22, will require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and proof of identity in order to enter indoor public settings such as restaurants, bars, banquet halls, casinos, cinemas, and sport and recreation facilities.  By Oct. 22, the province plans to introduce a digital certificate that will use a QR code and a verification app that will let Ontarians prove they are vaccinated through their smartphones.  Saunders said he would prefer to scan a QR code than ask for ID and vaccination proof every time someone comes to dine.  “Other provinces have it already on their phones, so why is it taking us seven or eight weeks to do it?” he said.  At the same time, he said there may be issues for seniors who are not tech savvy when the digital certificate comes into effect.  The province is developing alternatives for people without smartphones, ID, emails and health cards.  “There is going to be a lot of business loss because of it. I think people are just going to say, ‘I’m not going out,’ ” Saunders said. He noted the restaurant has already taken numerous steps to ensure customer safety, including disposable menus, requiring masks indoors, installing partitions and plexiglass, and requiring physical distancing.  “We have all the safety protocols in effect,” he said. “Why is there this one more step that the restaurateurs have to take into account? Why is the onus on the owners and operators?”  Saunders said there are still some people who are wary about indoor dining, and he doesn’t know if a vaccine certification program will change that.  “Logistically, it’s going to be a nightmare for the restaurants for the first little while,” he said.  Jo Rogers, a customer picking up takeout at The Cove Cafe, said she supports the implementation of a vaccine certification program at certain businesses.  “It makes me feel safer,” she said. “I don’t want to be mingling with people who haven’t had their shots. That’s their right not to get them, but I don’t want to hang with them.”  Knowing other people in a restaurant are fully vaccinated would make her more comfortable to return to indoor dining. “Anything we can do to enhance that safety, I’m 100 per cent for it,” she said.  For more information, and to find out how to get vaccinated, visit . STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Some businesses will soon be responsible for ensuring patrons have proof of vaccination against COVID-19, so we reached out to see what owners and customers think.

Environment, economy, housing: New Tecumseth residents talk election priorities

New Tecumseth residents may have different priorities heading into the Sept. 20 federal election, but they can all agree that the next government has a lot of work to do. While the pandemic continues to dominate the news and impact people’s lives on a daily basis, there are many other issues that Canadians want the federal government to focus on. asked New Tecumseth residents to tell us what they think the next federal government needs to prioritize over the next term in office. Tottenham resident Laurie Neville, 66, said there are “so many important” issues impacting Canadians, from the environment, support for seniors, children and family, health care, and the economy. Neville has long advocated for better drinking water for her community, so it comes as no surprise when she says the environment should be the dominant issue. “We need clean air and water along with abundant farms and green spaces,” she said. “This election, I’m voting for the candidate who commits to clean water and a healthy environment — now and after the election — whether that candidate is elected or not.” Carol Parks has called Beeton home for the past decade, and prior to this she lived in Adjala for nine years. Affordable housing is at the top of her list. “I own my house, so this is not about me,” she said. “My concern is for young people who want to strike out on their own and simply can’t do it. I have a family member who is working two jobs and still can’t afford to even rent an apartment on her own. I really think this needs to be addressed.” She said one of the ways to address this is to make it easier for property owners to build alternative types of housing, like granny suites. “Of course everything would have to be built to code, but cut a lot of the red tape involved,” she said. Tottenham resident Nick Dougherty, 76, is a small-business owner who runs an automated window shading company. He doesn’t think there is any way to justify an election right now. “Trudeau seems to think that he can convince the voting public that his government’s handling of the pandemic needs to be rewarded by a majority. There are so many flaws in that premise, it’s mind boggling.” Dougherty wants the next government to focus its attention on the economic recovery. “I worry that millions of dollars are promised by all parties which would increase the debt and the deficit well beyond the current unprecedented level.” He also wants to see Canada improve its relationship with China, and he thinks pension reform is long overdue. “The elderly on fixed incomes are falling behind and it’s become intolerable,” he said. “It’s time to give reasonable increases to pensioners.” STORY BEHIND THE STORY: wanted to find out what is motivating New Tecumseth residents to head to the polls for the Sept. 20 federal election.

Muskoka Indigenous women frustrated with federal election campaign

Three First Nations women from Muskoka have spoken out to say they are angry and frustrated they are not hearing more from candidates on Indigenous issues during the federal election campaign. All three said they are exasperated that the news cycle in 2021 is so short Indigenous issues — front page news earlier this summer — have now been pushed to the back burner even during a national election. That includes the discovery this summer of the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children who were buried in unmarked graves at the sites of former . While recognizing COVID-19 is dominating much of the headlines during the campaign — they point out Indigenous people have been more adversely affected by the pandemic than the rest of the population, yet they’ve been largely left out of that conversation. Port Carling-based lawyer Trisha Cowie said there is currently no shortage of issues affecting Indigenous people and their relationship with Canada. She believes this election is critical if there is ever going to be progress on reconciliation. “I do not speak for all Indigenous people, but for me, the No. 1 issue is following up on the in the Truth and Reconciliation report. Also important is moving forward on the recommendations coming out of the ,” Cowie said. “These are serious issues affecting our people whether they live off-reserve or on the territory. Governments have to stop handing off Indigenous issues to the next government. We need leaders with power and vision and I am not seeing that.” Cowie added perhaps the most pressing local Indigenous issue is the legal battle with the federal and provincial governments over provisions and rights in the . If Canadian governments are serious about reconciliation they must end these protracted, expensive legal battles in court and stop treating treaty obligations as social policy, she said. Former Huntsville resident Lorelei Isaacs-Bacon, who now lives in Bracebridge, said she is stunned by how quickly the residential school burial site tragedies have been pushed to the back pages. Along with Cowie, she helped organize a ceremony at River Mill Park in June where hundreds of signs, made by Muskoka students mourning those innocent victims, were planted in the ground. “I’m not hearing anything from these politicians about how there can be reconciliation and healing on the residential schools tragedy. When is it going to happen?” Issacs-Bacon asked. “There is also the ongoing problem of clean water on reserves — a huge issue that I am not hearing enough about. This is really about telling the truth and our voice being heard,” she said. “Too many Canadians don’t understand the hurt and pain Indigenous people across the country are feeling, or they don’t care. It’s maybe not entirely their fault. I do not hear the federal leaders talking nearly enough about Indigenous peoples and their relationship with Canada.” Huntsville Indigenous activist Joyce Jonathan Crone has been drawing attention to Indigenous issues all summer by setting up a memorial to residential school victims in River Mill Park. Unfortunately, it keeps getting vandalized without anyone being caught. She said she is saddened by that but is also frustrated there does not seem to be much talk or debate about Indigenous issues by the candidates in . “It’s not good enough for them to refer us to their national party websites. I would like to hear what the local candidates themselves are saying about these critical Indigenous issues,” Jonathan Crone said. Local candidates shared their thoughts on Indigenous issues in this newspaper’s Sept 3. THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: All Canadians should be concerned about Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous people, especially during a federal election. Our reporter connected with local Indigenous women to share their thoughts on the election and how Indigenous issues are being represented.

Society at a ‘climate crisis crossroads’: Orillia mayor

Residents concerned for the planet’s future now have an opportunity to weigh in on an emerging plan aimed at creating a local response to a global crisis. Input from a public survey will aid the development of a Community Climate Change Action Plan, with participants invited to share their vision for what the city is calling “Orillia’s Climate Future.” The survey is available at . “To get to Orillia’s Climate Future, where we want Orillia to be, will require everyone to take a part in making that happen,” Renee Recoskie, manager, property and environmental sustainability, told “If we don’t involve the public and make sure their input is heard and this plan is an approach for Orillia, it won’t be successful.” The action plan will identify how the municipality can lower its greenhouse-gas emissions, while also guiding the community’s future growth in a more sustainable way. Society is “at a climate crisis crossroads,” and residents’ input is vital in developing a local solution, Mayor Steve Clarke said. “Together, we can work towards a more sustainable future locally, which will have positive ripple effects globally,” he added. Survey participants are being encouraged to contribute feedback on Orillia’s climate-change priorities and vision statements, which will act as guiding principles as the municipality crafts its approach to a crisis that is already manifesting itself in heat waves and increasingly severe storms. The vision statements touch on topics ranging from economic vibrancy and social equity to zero waste, low-emitting transportation, renewable energy and green spaces. The statements were developed by the city’s community-based steering committee, which includes representatives from Sustainable Orillia, the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce, Lakehead University, Georgian College, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, and local businesses and organizations. The survey is available until Sept. 20 at 4 p.m. Hard-copy versions of the survey are also available at Orillia City Centre, located at The Community Climate Change Action Plan is expected to be presented to council for review and endorsement in early 2022.

What do Ontario’s breakthrough infections teach us about the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Ontario government has recently been reporting the number of breakthrough COVID-19 infections in fully vaccinated people, as part of its daily data collection — and the percentage has been sitting around 20 per cent. On Aug. 26, 678 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the province and among those infected individuals, 141 were fully vaccinated. Out of that data, 395 were unvaccinated, 82 were partially vaccinated and 60 have an unknown status.  As well, Ontario reported that out of all the people who are currently in hospital due to COVID-19, but not in ICU, 137 are unvaccinated, 14 are partially vaccinated and 31 are fully vaccinated.  Of those in ICU, 89 are unvaccinated, nine are partially vaccinated and 10 are fully vaccinated.  Tania Watts, a professor of immunology at University of Toronto, who is also a member of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said these breakthrough rates are “not unexpected.” In an email to Metroland, Watts said the rates actually show the high degree of protection that vaccinated Ontarians are getting, when taking into consideration that 75 per cent of eligible individuals have received both jabs. She explained that unvaccinated people make up only one-quarter of the population but 82 per cent of the people in ICU, which shows that “the vaccinated are getting a very high level of protection.” When asked about breakthrough infections at his weekly news conference on Aug. 24, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore had something similar to say.  “As more and more Ontarians are immunized, over 10 million of us, the unvaccinated are a much smaller number — around 2.2 million that are eligible to be immunized,” he said. “So when you look at overall infection rates, you’ll see that sometimes a significant number of vaccinated people will get the illness, but they will have less severe symptoms, less risk of hospitalization, less risk of being admitted to the ICU and less risk of death.” Reggie Lo, professor emeritus in the department of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Guelph, said the recent breakthrough infection rates Ontario has been reporting are quite high, compared to rates that have been previously recorded in several other countries. For example, an Israeli study from late July by the found a 2.6 per cent COVID-19 breakthrough rate among health-care workers. As well, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from reported a 0.01 per cent breakthrough rate in the U.S. However, this week, showed that 25.3 per cent of people in Los Angeles County who contracted COVID-19 from May to July were fully vaccinated — a rate closer to Ontario’s. Lo said there are a number of factors that could be contributing to the high breakthrough infection rate in Ontario, such as immune response levels and infection dose. “One should also look into the severity of illness in these individuals. If they have mild or no symptoms, the vaccination is protecting them,” he added. “The PCR test is amplifying the viral RNA, it could be detecting remnants of the virus, not entire infectious particles, which also mean the vaccination is working.” He said, however, that the manner in which Ontario has been collecting the data may be creating some inaccuracies. For example, it is possible that the “status unknown” cases reported are from individuals who are unvaccinated but are unwilling to reveal this information. Regarding third doses, Watts said there is evidence that many seniors in long-term care and people who are immunocompromised have a weaker response to vaccines and for that reason, a third dose is beneficial and should be done as soon as possible. However, she said, that may not necessarily be the case for all Ontarians in the future. “I am of the view that we can still wait for the healthy population. There isn’t much evidence yet of declining immunity in this population or whether a third dose would make a difference,” Watts said. “I think we will be watching the data emerging elsewhere.”

Slow down and put cellphones away; South Simcoe Police urge as kids head back to school

will be deploying all available police officers to ensure the school year begins safely.  It’s the department’s ‘All Hands On Deck’ back-to-school safety campaign. Students are back to school on Tuesday, Sept. 7. Residents can expect to see increased police presence in school zones in Bradford and Innisfil from that day until Friday, Sept. 17, police said.  Police will be enforcing driver, cyclist and pedestrian safety.  Drivers are urged to slow down and put their cellphones away, police said. “Be extra vigilant as children will adjusting to new schedules, wearing masks and practising physical distancing while walking to school and at bus stops,” police said.  The fine for failing to stop for a school bus with flashing lights and extended stop arm is $400 to $2,000 and six demerit points for a first offence. If convicted of distracted driving, drivers could be fined up to $1,000. The fine for speeding in school zones is $400 to $2,000 and six demerit points. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to talk with their children about safety.  Give yourself extra time to avoid rushing and reduce the stress of the return to regular routines.