State of emergency declared by five eastern counties and City of Cornwall

The United Counties of SDG building as it appeared in 2017, with stucco-covered Visitor's Centre (former Warden's Residence) visible at the left side of the frame. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

EASTERN ONTARIO — A state of emergency has been declared by the three upper-tier municipal governments within the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s coverage area.

In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell and the City of Cornwall simultaneously enacted declarations effective at 4 p.m. today.

SD&G Warden Frank Prevost said that residents shouldn’t panic about the additional state of emergency — which is on top of the provincial declaration made by Premier Doug Ford earlier this month —  but should take public health advisories very seriously. “I want residents to understand that we have taken this measure to enable us to access additional resources to respond to COVID-19.”

Prescott and Russell Warden Pierre Leroux similarly noted that while the situation regarding COVID-19 “is still manageable,” the declaration would “allow the redeployment of county resources, such as personnel and equipment, to where we need them most.”

“If ever this went completely nuts and we needed to add resources for, say, our paramedics, where we don’t have time to get into a council meeting situation, that would be a possible scenario, where funds could be added,” added Leroux, when asked by NVN about potential amount of spending authority granted to municipal staff as a result of the declaration. “Obviously, we have to maintain within the rule of law, the Emergency [Measures] Act that we have to follow, but that’s one possible situation.”

Although there have only been four confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the combined jurisdictions to date, there are over 300 tests with results still pending, according to the EOHU. Public health authorities fear the virus is now spreading on two fronts: through the community —from one individual to another — as well as residents returning from travel abroad.

Two of the four confirmed cases registered by the EOHU involved travel outside the country, but Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis has in recent days expressed certainty that “community spread” is happening as well.

“Over 50 percent of cases in Canada are not linked to individuals who have travelled abroad or been in contact with people who did,” says Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). “This means there is now community spread of COVID-19 across the country, and our area will be no exception.”

The increasing threat of COVID-19 points to the importance of physical distancing as a measure to counter its spread. The public continues to be asked to stay home as much as possible and to avoid all non-essential outings. When going out for absolute essentials like groceries and medication, everyone must maintain a minimum distance of two metres (6 feet) from one another.

“Declaring a state of emergency is not a decision we took lightly, but it was the right decision to make,” said Bernadette Clement, Mayor of the City of Cornwall. “This will help us to come together more effectively to care for the most vulnerable among us, to deploy needed action quickly, and to efficiently coordinate preventive measures.”

The involved municipalities are not alone in declaring a state of emergency. The City of Ottawa and North Grenville both did so earlier this week.

Conversely, unlike North Grenville (a lower-tier municipality within Leeds and Grenville counties), none of the lower-tier municipalities within the five easternmost counties — such as North Dundas Township or South Dundas — has seen fit to declare a state of emergency.

“At this time, we feel we are not at the point we need to declare since we are handling the situation as best we can and have no confirmed cases in South Dundas or SDG,” said South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds of potentially declaring a South Dundas state of emergency.  “If there is advice to do so here, we will seriously consider it,” he added.

“We have not ruled out the idea and we have received advice on the subject,” said North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser on the idea of a local declaration.


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