TALES FROM HUMBER: Small town life versus the global pandemic

by | Jan 29, 2021 | Opinion, Tales From Humber

I remember driving down the empty, snow-dusted backroads of my Central Ontario hometown to work in December, only to spend most of my shifts discussing a common concern with my coworkers: What if city-dwellers brought the virus to us and forced us into lockdown?

It turns out this was a very valid concern, as the Ontario-wide lockdown was ordered on Boxing Day. The large numbers of holiday shoppers travelling to malls like the one I worked in, and others who blatantly disregarded their cities’ restrictions certainly contributed to that outcome.

It was incredibly frustrating to have to stand by and watch as the numbers continued to rise and not much was done to prevent it.

I live in Innisfil, Ont. — a relatively small town of about 37,000 people, compared to the nearly three million in Toronto and more than 760,000 in Mississauga. Since March 2020, Innisfil has had fewer than 500 confirmed COVID cases; Toronto has had over 80,000. Even Barrie, the closest city to Innisfil, has had less than 1,700.

“I think the concept of lockdown was well-intended but wasn’t very effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. We’ve seen record highs for daily cases, and the whole province has had to shut down,” 20-year-old Innisfil resident Mitchell Duval said. “I think a lot of the spread does come from big centres like Toronto.”

The fact is, towns and cities with smaller populations, more spread out and are further away from large, high-traffic cities like Toronto, are safer during the pandemic. That’s why the Simcoe-Muskoka region was able to stay open longer than Toronto and Peel. However, many urban residents broke their lockdown restrictions by travelling to towns like ours, and it resulted in a provincial shutdown.

“When the GTA was in lockdown and we weren’t, people were just coming up here and spreading the virus, and a lot more people were contracting it because they were still out and about,” Deanna Haslam, a 19-year-old from Springwater, Ont., said. “I don’t believe we should have been put into lockdown because of people in the GTA coming up here.

“There should have been a stricter plan in place for travelling much earlier,” she said.

Haslam and I worked together at Tanger Outlets in Innisfil, and the number of people we saw who came up from the city to shop in December was astounding. My coworkers and I would have daily discussions about them and how they would eventually force our region to close down.

“I feel like we would barely have any cases if people from the city just stayed home when they were supposed to instead of bringing it here,” Innisfil resident Jenna Ross, 20, said.

Although people who did not stay home like they were supposed to contribute to the December lockdown and second declaration of emergency issued by Doug Ford on Jan. 12, they were not the only factor. The lack of security measures taken to prevent travelling from locked-down regions was baffling.

If smaller regions were to open up again, we would not be safe — but not because of our own residents. We would not be safe because of people travelling between regions and not staying home as ordered.

Lockdowns can be extremely difficult to endure, and staying home can make people stir-crazy. The urge to get out of the house and do something can be hard to resist, but understand that following through on these urges impacts the lives of others.