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.

‘A consequence of the pandemic’: Cancer screening tests down in Simcoe County

It’s not that executive director Aaron Lutes wants to see more cancer patients step through his door. But he is concerned that the number of people getting an early diagnosis of some forms of cancer has diminished. “Cancer screening since the start of the pandemic has dropped dramatically, by over 50 per cent on average in the province,” Lutes said. “This is starting to play out in the emergency room and doctors’ offices with devastating cancer diagnosis.” Cancers not caught early are more advanced with deadlier outcomes, Lutes said. ’s manager of prevention and screening Mark Unwin said the lower statistics throughout the province right now are a result of the government requesting health care providers reduce screening in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. It was done to allow health care staff to respond to the pandemic, he said. However, now they are playing catch-up to get patients back for their regular cancer screening tests. For example, a colorectal fecal test is done for people aged 50 to 74 every two years, Unwin said. In order to get back to regular numbers, 10,000 fecal tests need to be done in Simcoe-Muskoka, which could mean 16 positive tests in that group — using local averages. Unwin also noted 15,000 mammograms need to be done, with a potential of 71 positive results. And there’s also a backlog of 16,000 pap tests, which could show approximately 53 patients with an abnormal result. “These are staggering statistics, but I don’t want the message to be that we handled COVID-19 improperly. I think this is just an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic.” It also unfortunately disproportionately affects women, Unwin said. The good news is getting a screening test for breast, colorectal or cervical cancer is easy and booking times are available, Unwin said. “It’s important you contact your family doctor now to get up to date on these tests,” he said. “It’s safe to get this screening done. Some people are still hesitant to interact with the health care system at this time.” Call the Simcoe Muskoka Cancer Screening Hotline at for more information.

With back to school around the corner, vaccinations — and COVID testing numbers — are on the rise for Ontario kids

Even as Ontarians between the ages of 12 and 17 are getting vaccinated against in ever-increasing numbers, medical professionals expect demand for testing in younger cohorts to rise when kids return to classrooms amid growing cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant. Provincial data shows that between Aug. 17, when children turning 12 this year were given the go-ahead to get the Pfizer vaccine, and Sept. 1, the vaccination rates for 12-17-year-olds rose from 69.8 per cent to 74.9 per cent for one shot, and from 56.5 per cent to . While this is undoubtedly good news for worried parents and educators watching daily cases climb just a , COVID cases in school-aged children are still expected to rise to the point that assessment centres will face increased pressure to test more. , released Wednesday, shows that a rapid rise in the number of seriously ill people needing hospital care is expected among the unvaccinated, as workplaces and schools reopen in September. The fourth wave will affect all age groups, with the potential to exceed ICU capacity, according to the modelling. At least two hospitals have opened up pediatric COVID assessment centres to brace for this , and at both, officials say they’re already seeing more kids coming with symptoms for testing. “What’s more unusual this time is that the demand started before schools were back in session,” said Karen Riddell, chief nursing executive at Windsor Regional Hospital, where a new clinic for kids and teens opened Tuesday. “But we are expecting once schools get back in that we will see even more.” Although older children are eligible for the Pfizer shot, those under 12 have no vaccine protection. While they are still most likely to have mild symptoms, even with the Delta variant, spikes in hospitalizations in the United States, particularly in areas with low vaccination rates, are worrying. Experts say school outbreaks are inevitable this fall and may result in entire classes being sent home, or even school closures in situations when many students are suspected to have the virus. If that comes to pass, pediatric assessment clinics will likely experience even more demand, especially given that the province has compared to the number of facilities earlier in the year. As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, 90 per cent of the appointment slots at Michael Garron Hospital’s pediatric clinic that day were filled. The east Toronto hospital has reopened its pediatric assessment centre, which temporarily closed in June, right next to the emergency department, in anticipation of increased COVID cases in young people throughout the fall. “The capacity in the system for assessments and testing is critical if we are to mitigate the risk of significant spread,” said Dr. Kyle Vojdani, emergency department chief and medical director at Michael Garron Hospital. He noted that he is particularly concerned with the small portion of children who can develop more serious illness requiring hospitalization. “Capacity within the system for pediatric admissions and pediatric clinical care is limited. That’s what worries me.” Vojdani added that Michael Garron’s pediatric clinic is part of a broader hospital strategy that includes in-school tests, increasing pediatric in-patient capacity and virtual assessments. In Windsor, where there are rising cases, hospitalizations and ICU numbers in general, the number of children and teens with symptoms getting tested has doubled over the last few weeks, said Riddell. The hospital is now testing an average of 40 to 50 kids per day. On Tuesday, 59 showed up at the new assessment centre, and another 24 at a different site. According to the most up-to-date data from , there are roughly 206 cases per 100,000 in kids and teens up to 19 years old. That’s the third-highest age group, behind people in their 20s (375) and 30s (351). In addition to getting tested at the Windsor assessment centre if they meet the provincial criteria, children can access a pediatrician in case they need minor treatment, Riddell said. Colourful murals make the space kid-friendly. If they test positive, then contact tracing can begin to stop the spread. “We just want to make sure that we’re able to respond quickly, and avoid some of the situations that we’re seeing in other jurisdictions, like down in the southern states, where they’re having very high rates of pediatric hospitalization and ICU stays, which is something that we have not seen in previous waves,” she added. The Star asked the Ministry of Health for a breakdown of vaccination rates for each age between 12 and 17 but was not provided with the data. Instead, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the province is focusing on a “last mile” strategy to reach people who still need shots. “This includes mobile clinics and community-based pop-ups, dedicated clinic days for families with people with disabilities, and town hall meetings in multiple languages,” said spokesperson Bill Campbell. Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, says there are a number of steps the education system could take that would cut down on spread of the Delta variant in classrooms. In addition to having all staff fully vaccinated, he says twice-weekly spit tests that teachers could administer and that labs could then test would be an excellent way to ensure high-quality surveillance. “I would argue that (unvaccinated students) merit it. Not only are they vulnerable, not only do they depend on us for their safety, they’ve got no agency in this whatsoever. “We know Delta is coming. This is not hypothetical. This is not a maybe. It’s coming for them. It has everywhere else.” Other steps schools could take to improve safety include installing air exchangers that bring in fresh air from outside for classrooms that do not have HVAC systems, using carbon dioxide monitors to measure how much exhaled stale air is in the room, and introducing KN95 masks for students and teachers. “I think if you’re really taking care of air quality I think that would be it,” Furness said. “If my kid’s school did that, I’d breathe easy so to speak.” Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: May Warren is a Toronto-based breaking news reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter:

‘Desperate for staff’: Innisfil restaurants struggling to find employees

Jennifer McKnight, owner of the Harbour House Grill in Lefroy, would normally have no problem finding people to work at her restaurant.  But this year, it has become a real challenge.  “I try to hire every single morning. I’m up on the computer looking at Indeed,” she said, referring to the popular employment website. “This is the first year I’ve had to pay for Indeed ads.” In Ontario, the minimum wage is $12.45 for a liquor server, and the general minimum wage is $14.25.  “For the last couple of years, every single server who started here, even if they’ve never been here before, they get a regular minimum wage,” she said. “If you’re in the kitchen, you start at $16, $17, and there’s been people bumped up to $20.” Despite that, when she does interview and hire people, some don’t show up for work.  “I’m actually saying they’re hired, and we’ll do a working interview, because I’m so desperate for staff before I even meet them, and then nobody shows up,” she said. “It’s putting so much extra stress and pressure on me. It’s wasted time.” Jennifer Westra, team leader and employment consultant at Agilec in Innisfil, said those experiences are similar to what’s being seen across the industry.  “Many employers in the food and beverage industry … just can’t seem to get employees at the moment,” she said. “Some restaurants, many, have closed for a couple of days or adjusted their hours.”  Agilec, an Employment Ontario service provider, also helps workers get training and skills for the job search.  “That actually matches what we’re seeing in our offices, where we have reduced intake of people that are unemployed coming in and looking for work,” Westra said, adding she suspects social-assistance programs may be playing a role.  McKnight said Harbour House will be closing on Mondays and Tuesdays beginning in September to protect the staff they have. “Everybody here is getting burnt out — they’re doing 40-plus hours,” she said. “That also makes a lot of people quit, because it’s a lot of stress.”  For some employees, the backdrop of COVID-19 still worries them and has led to some staying home instead of working.  “Every situation is individual,” McKnight said, adding she has been considering what she can do beyond increasing wages even more to keep employees, including a possible group health plan. If finding staff continues to be a problem, she has considered another option: having people order from tablets.  “Then I don’t have to worry about seven staff per Saturday night that might not show up,” she said. “It’s not a route I ever wanted to do, but now I really feel like we’re being forced in that direction.” For more information and employment help, visit . STORY BEHIND THE STORY: The Harbour House Grill said it would be cutting brunch service due to labour challenges, which became a lightning rod for online commentary about restaurant pay, so we reached out to get their side of the story.

Road construction in your Barrie neighbourhood, including Reid Drive

Barrie’s road work is ongoing throughout the year. Many of these projects will result in road closures for extended periods of time. Listed closure times are subject to change due to weather and other factors. Reid Dr: Eisses Brothers Excavating and their sub-contractors require a full road closure on Reid Drive between Caplan Avenue and Mapleview Drive West, beginning at 7:00AM on Wednesday, September 08, 2021, to 7:00PM on Friday, September 10, 2021, to perform site servicing works related to the construction of an industrial building. Detour route: Reid Drive – Mapleview Drive West – Veteran’s Drive – Caplan Avenue Rose St : N/A St Vincent St : N/A As you enjoy your drive through Barrie, try out some of these useful apps: 1. Gas Buddy is an app that provides live gas prices at any gas station to help you save money 2. Waze is a traffic and navigation app that reports live road information including accidents and hazards 3. Roadtrippers is a must-have for when you plan your next road trip; it helps you discover local diners, tourist attractions and even tourist traps! This list of road closures and restrictions is updated as new closure details are provided. Source: This story was auto-generated with information provided by the .

Woman driving with rifle allegedly leaning on passenger seat charged by Barrie police

A 31-year-old woman faces drug, weapons and driving charges after police allegedly found a suspect driving a car with no licence plates in a Barrie neighbourhood on the morning of Sept. 5. When officers pulled the vehicle over at about 9:25 a.m. in the Park and High streets area, they discovered an unloaded .22-calibre rifle leaning on the passenger’s seat. Police also allegedly found suspected cocaine and methamphetamine, an open bottle of wine and an unsealed bottle of scotch whiskey — both of which were readily available to the driver. The driver, who has no fixed address, was arrested on the strength of two outstanding bench warrants that were held by Huronia West OPP and the Barrie Police Service. Officers discovered the vehicle was taken without the owner’s consent when they continued their investigation at Barrie police headquarters. The accused was held in custody for a bail hearing.

Six people charged for having open alcohol on Six Mile Lake: OPP

Six people are facing charges for having open alcohol aboard a boat while cruising through  this week, said Gosia Puzio, OPP central region’s media relations and community services co-ordinator. According to police, the driver of a boat was stopped on Tuesday, Aug. 24, around 11 a.m. by OPP SAVE and Southern Georgian Bay OPP Marine Unit. All six occupants were charged for having open alcohol under the , Puzio said. The alcohol was seized and the operator was also charged for operation of a vessel with open alcohol, she added. “Officers want to thank all the safe boaters checked during patrols found to be boating responsibly,” she said. “Staying sober and alert on the water is imperative to staying safe. Water conditions can change quickly and the water is very unforgiving. We want to see everyone be able to have fun and enjoy the water safely and responsibly.”