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 .

‘I’m gonna choose hope:’ Climate change fighter calls on Barrie residents to get involved

If Barrie had thousands more like Andee Pelan, the city would be that much closer to meeting its lofty goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But with many residents throwing up their hands in frustration in the face of the climate crisis or denying it’s even a problem, convincing everyone to do their part can be a monumental challenge. “When people say, ‘It’s too big; it’s China’s problem; it’s the government of Canada’s problem,’ then you lose hope in having any control,” Pelan said. “Given the option, I’m gonna choose hope. I’m leaving my daughter a world that I don’t think is going to be as good as the world I was left, and I want her to know that at least her mom did what she could.” Pelan, director of the non-profit , was watering fruit trees she and other volunteers planted near Edgehill Drive when she paused to be interviewed for this story. Planting trees is one of the projects Living Green has taken on to battle climate change at the grassroots level. It’s a positive step, but Pelan knows it will take much more to help the city reduce greenhouse gases created by residents. According to for its greenhouse gas emission reduction plan, the big culprits are residential homes heated by natural gas and private vehicles powered with gasoline. About 55 per cent of emissions in the city are spewed by vehicles, while another 27 per cent come from homes. Living Green is working alongside the city to persuade drivers to go electric and homeowners to switch to solar or an electric furnace. Both options require hefty upfront costs but come with significant savings in the long run. “We’re in an instant-gratification, the lowest-price-is-the-law, kind of community,” she said. “In the long run, going green is cheaper. But it’s hard to explain that to people in 30 words or less.” A virtual public meeting on greenhouse gas emissions in April pointed to the same dilemma. Minutes from the meeting show speakers called on the city to educate citizens on the need for change. “Education is critical; people do not like change, and messaging that focuses on increasing their understanding of how climate change affects them or their future grandchildren may help,” one quote reads. Some residents may want to retrofit their homes, knowing it will save money and reduce greenhouse gases, but can’t afford the upfront costs. Mayor Jeff Lehman recognizes that challenge and offered a solution earlier this year. He favours a program setup where a company, organization or philanthropist covers the cost of major home retrofits. They could then collect a fee based on a percentage of the property’s monthly energy cost savings. “The average homeowner won’t want to drop $100,000 on a comprehensive package of upgrades,” he said. “But if somebody came to them and said, ‘We’ll provide the upgrades and take some of the upside benefit, and you’ll pay for it that way,’ that’s a very powerful way of doing things. You split the savings. There’s a real model here.” Pelan supports the city’s work on greenhouse gas emissions but adds that courageous leadership and serious funding is needed from Ottawa. “You think of anything that’s happened of any significance in human history, and it’s because somebody took a bold move that was outside of what all the naysayers said.” That said, Pelan never underestimates the power of doing the little things, like the young volunteers who pitched in to help care for the fruit trees. “The two little kids that were out there, they’re seeing their parents model a behaviour,” she said. “That is going to be everything for who they become in the future.” STORY BEHIND THE STORY: With the effects of climate change becoming more evident, reporter Rick Vanderlinde decided to find someone who could inspire individuals and offer hope.

Ontario reports 864 new COVID cases, more than 62 per cent in unvaccinated people

Ontario is reporting another 864 cases and three more deaths, released Thursday morning. Ontario has administered 35,463 , with 21,283,180 vaccines given in total as of 8 p.m. the previous night. According to the , 11,047,037 people in Ontario have received at least one shot. That works out to approximately 84.8 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 74.3 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine. The province says 10,236,143 people have completed their vaccinations, which means they’ve had both doses. That works out to approximately 78.5 per cent of the eligible population 12 years and older, and the equivalent of 68.9 per cent of the total population, including those not yet eligible for the vaccine. The province now includes data that reflects . Ontario warns that the new process may cause discrepancies between other hospitalization numbers being collected using a different process, and that the data may not match daily COVID-19 case counts. The province reports 533 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in unvaccinated people, 56 were partially vaccinated, and 209 cases in fully vaccinated people. Again, the province warns the data may not match daily COVID case counts because records with a missing or invalid health card number can’t be linked. The seven-day average is at 732 cases daily, or 35.2 weekly per 100,000. Ontario’s seven-day average for deaths is at 7.6 daily. The province says 34,365 tests were completed the previous day, and a 2.4 per cent positivity rate. There are 348 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province, including 167 patients in intensive care testing positive for COVID-19. There are 120 people on ventilators. Locally, Ontario reports 162 cases in Toronto, 122 in Peel Region, 78 in York Region, 64 in Ottawa and 53 in Hamilton. Meanwhile, one more residents in long-term care has died for a total of 3,807 since the pandemic began, . Ontario is reporting no new long-term-care homes in outbreak, for a total of seven or 1.1 per cent of LTC homes in the province. This data is self-reported by the long-term care homes to the Ministry of Long-Term Care. Daily case and death figures may not immediately match the numbers posted by the local public health units due to lags in reporting time. There is one more confirmed case of the Alpha variant first detected in the United Kingdom, for a cumulative total of 146,452 cases. There are no new cases in Ontario of the Beta variant first detected in South Africa, for a cumulative total of 1,502 cases. There are no new cases of the Gamma variant first found in Brazil, for a cumulative total of 5,227 cases. There are 236 more cases of the Delta variant first detected in India, for a cumulative total of 15,925 cases. Urbi Khan is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email:

Vaccine mandates and the return to work

Listen here or subscribe at , , , or wherever you listen to your favourite podcasts, including , where Closed Captioning is available. Stay updated on episodes via our . If you would like to support the journalism of the Toronto Star, you can at . Guest: Lior Samfiru, employment lawyer and co-founding partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP in the workplace aren’t hypothetical anymore. They are real. The has one for their employees, as does the for people in high-risk settings. Those new rules are filtering down to private business, with Canada’s big five banks and Air Canada to get vaccinated in the return to work. But is it legal? Can your employer make you get vaccinated? If you refuse, can they legally fire you? We parse through all the details of employment law, explain the ins and outs of rights for employers and employees alike, along with the legal challenges to come. Adrian Cheung is a co-host and producer on the Star’s podcast team. He is based in Toronto. Reach him via email:

Garbage debate continues: Simcoe County discusses shrinking size of garbage carts

Simcoe County mayors know some residents don’t like the size of garbage carts currently being delivered to neighbourhoods. Which is why they inquired about getting smaller-sized carts for people in townhouses or condominiums at a . Starting Nov. 1, all Simcoe County municipalities, except Barrie and Orillia, are switching to an that uses wheeled carts. The carts are standardized, with 100-litre/120-litre for organics, 240-litre for garbage, and 360-litre for recycling. About half of the 450,000 new carts have already been delivered to homeowners. “In my community, there is great support for the automation, but a number of people have a concern about the size,” Collingwood Mayor Brian Saunderson said. “I’d like to see us look at ways to accelerate the option for smaller sizes.” Wasaga Beach Mayor Nina Bifolchi said residents in lifestyle communities like Stonebridge By The Bay, or Parkbridge Communities, have condo regulations to follow. “I’m being told they can’t have these (carts) sitting out,” she said. “I think we need to explain what interaction and consideration was given for those communities when the recommendations were coming forward to have the large bins for everyone.” She said most residents would know if they needed a smaller bin for waste items. Adjala-Tosorontio Mayor Floyd Pinto suggested council should allow any resident to choose a smaller sized cart — not just ones in a condo or townhome. He also inquired if people with disabilities were considered before the county approved the carts. “It wasn’t required to go through the accessibility committee,” collections manager Willma Bureau said. “We went through a sufficient procurement process to ensure accessibility was considered in the process.” Pinto said seniors, or people who use a mobility device, would face challenges in moving these carts. As council agreed to postpone further discussions for a specific waste workshop in October, Bradford West Gwillimbury deputy mayor James Leduc asked if staff could make a rush order now for smaller bins. “The longer we wait, the longer it will take (for delivery),” he said. His request was turned down in favour of waiting for the workshop debate.

‘These outbreaks do come to an end’: Simcoe County forester gives LDD moth update

Severn Township Deputy Mayor Jane Dunlop was hoping for more help for residents fighting Lymantria dispar dispar (LDD) moth. At a Sept. 14 committee of the whole meeting, Dunlop said provides little support for area landowners. “You suggest we support our residents with burlap,” Dunlop said. “But that’s a pretty small suggestion.” Dunlop has been scraping egg sacks off her trees and wondered if there was a company to help residents contain the pests for the 2022 season. “If you’ve got a small lot with 10 spruce trees, (an aerial spray company) isn’t going to come in and do your place,” Dunlop said. Simcoe County forester Graeme Davis did say some tree service companies will treat smaller residential locations. He noted the LDD moth infestation began in 2019, and this year’s survey saw fewer egg masses. “The overall trend is down — these outbreaks do come to an end,” Davis said. “By their very nature, this level of infestation cannot be supported indefinitely.” The county isn’t going to spray its forests in 2022, and Davis wasn’t anticipating long-lasting impacts to overall forest health. For more details, visit . *NOTE: In an ongoing effort to use inclusive language, the newspaper is transitioning away from use of “gypsy moth” and will be using “LDD moth” moving forward.

Key takeaways from New Tecumseth council’s long-term financial discussion

New Tecumseth council delved into the town’s long-term financials during an Aug. 25 working session. Here are some takeaways from the discussion. LEVY FORECAST The town has forecast annual tax increases up until 2030, assuming a reasonable increase between zero and three per cent. The town’s manager of corporate services, Lori Bedford, said the lone exception is for the 2022 budget, which has been forecast at 8.03 per cent. However, she emphasized this is not a commitment, and staff won’t bring forward a budget with an increase this high. “There are lots of opportunities to mitigate or rearrange some of the items,” she said. LEVY INCREASES 2023-30 2023: 4.54 per cent 2024: 2.59 per cent 2025: 2.17 per cent 2026: 3.27 per cent 2027: 2.29 per cent 2028: 2.46 per cent 2029: 1.18 per cent 2030: 0.3 per cent Water rates are also forecast using an annual increase of four per cent. FUNDING SHORTFALLS . The reserve account is set to become negative starting next year to the tune of almost $27.5 million. Over the next decade, the town is also facing millions more in shortfalls to replace aging infrastructure, including a $54-million funding gap to pay for water and wastewater projects. The asset-management reserve is currently sitting at $13.6 million, but this account is set to go negative to the tune of $21.5 million starting next year. The account is currently on track to remain negative up until 2030, at which time it will be more than $65 million in the red. In recent years, council implemented a 0.5 per cent charge to the annual levy increase to start building up the reserve. High-value DC projects include: FIRE Fire Station 4: $7.5 million Fire Station 3 expansion: $2.5 million RECREATION: Indoor pool: $24.8 million New Beeton arena: $17.5 million New ice pad: $15.3 million ROADS: New roads facility: $9.4 million 14th Line widening: $8.4 million MacKenzie Pioneer Road upgrades: $11.3 million Dayfoot Street reconstruction: $20.7 million WATER, WASTEWATER: New storage reservoir: $11.5 million Collingwood water plant upgrades: $63.2 million Regional plant expansion (Phase 1): $59.4 million Beeton infrastructure improvements: $4.6 million WATER, WASTEWATER FOR NEW DEVELOPMENT Bedford said the town only has unassigned capacity for an additional 50 to 80 homes, plus capacity for new industrial development. Additional water supply from the Collingwood pipeline isn’t expected to be available to the town until 2025. She said some developers that have not started building have already been assigned water capacity, but the town may need to revisit this in order to service more shovel-ready projects. “We have to turn over every rock we can find in order to find available water to give to developers or builders or residents or industry that is ready to go,” she said. “The sooner they are ready to go, the sooner we get our development charges, which funds the greater growth needs for water.” DEBT As of 2020, the town’s long-term debt was hovering around $65 million. The town is on track to exceed its debt limit capacity, which is 25 per cent of its annual revenue, by 2025. However, Bedford said this will not be the case if council decides to defer capital projects, like recreation improvements, to later years.

Housing sales dip in Barrie, rise in Orillia in August

Housing sales appear to be on the decline in Barrie. According to the Barrie and District Association of Realtors, 205 homes were sold in the month of August, a 19.6 per cent drop from the previous month. The average sale price of $748,686 was a 2.6 per cent increase over July. Apartment and condo sales also dropped in August, with 27 units being sold, a 28.9 per cent decrease from the previous month. Innisfil also saw a reduction in housing sales, as 53 units were sold, a 13.1 per cent decrease from July. While overall sales dropped, the price for a home in Innisfil saw a significant increase. The average price in Innisfil last month was $931,026, a 14.5 per cent increase from July 2021.  Sales in Barrie and Innisfil fell, but Orillia’s housing market had a strong month. A total of 62 units were sold, representing a 14.8 per cent increase from July. The average price in Orillia was $681,072, a 4.8 per cent increase. In Essa, 15 units were sold, which represents a 58 per cent decrease from the month prior.  The average sale price in Essa last month was $845,367.

Residents cite privacy, habitat issues with proposed Wasaga development

Privacy and a loss of habitat are the chief concerns of neighbours of a proposed residential development in Wasaga Beach’s east end. Sunnyvale Estates is proposing to build more than 60 single detached homes on 5.5 hectares of land off Golf Course Road. Sunnyvale has made several requests for amendments to the town’s zoning bylaw, including a reduction in side and rear yard setbacks, increases in maximum lot coverage, and an increase in maximum building height from 10 metres to 11.5 metres. A draft plan of subdivision application is still in process, and the developer is working on a number of reports and studies that it needs to provide to the town’s planning department. Neighbours, however, raised a number of concerns, not the least of which was a loss of privacy through the cutting of trees. “It’s unfortunate (trees on this) this property will be destroyed,” Wendy Walker told the committee. “Having bigger houses on small lots is not conducive for any of us.” She asked that some trees that would border the new development and existing residences remain as a buffer, or, at least, that new trees be planted — along with a fence — to obstruct the view. Andre Aberdeen expressed a concern for the existing wildlife that currently inhabits the property. “I understand that the town is growing and there’s always going to be a need for growth,” said Andre Aberdeen. “(But) what exactly is going to be done in order to mitigate the impacts on wildlife?” Jamie-Lynn Babin said she expects to see six or seven homes backing onto the side yard of her Golf Course Road residence. “We’re all for change and growth, (but) ideally we’d like to see a green space in between, some trees kept,” she said. “The privacy we once had, we won’t have anymore.” She added the space is heavily used by the community for cycling and walking. Michelle Bravakis raised a concern about the reduced setbacks, pointing to a recent fire in the west end that consumed two homes, after the blaze leapt from one home to another. A recommendation will come to committee at a later date. The developer’s representative, Jack Krubnik, expected there would be no development on the site until at least the end of 2022.