Essentially ineffective

By Megan Walchuk

Businesses of the Rainy River District can pat themselves on the back for staying a step ahead of the provincial government in the fight against COVID-19.

On Monday evening, the province released a list of essential services which would be allowed to remain open for the next two weeks. The remainder, unless they could move to an entirely home, telephone or web-based model, were forced to shut their doors as of midnight last night. Many on the essential services list included businesses already closed throughout the Rainy River District. Every gift shop in the province is now closed, but Betty’s, Northwoods Gallery and Fort Floral closed their doors well before Tuesday night. Most of our hairdressers, including 202 Hair Classics and Reflexion Studio had already closed. Clothing stores like Curvy Chick. All our dental offices. Even New Gold, clearly listed as essential, chose to do their part, suspending operations to stop the spread of the virus. Many others closed to walk-in-traffic, asking as many of their staff to work from home as possible.

COVID-19 is a serious threat – especially to northwestern Ontario. Our aging population, paired with limited medical resources, is a ticking time bomb if the virus penetrates beyond the single confirmed case, currently still in isolation. Dr Marc Ruppenstein put out an impassioned plea for local residents to stay home during this time, because we have only five ventilators for the whole District – wholly inadequate, in the event of a large scale outbreak.

It appears the people in our region have been listening, from the vast number of early and voluntary closures and the empty sidewalks and public spaces, as residents hunker down at home.

But is our extensive list of cancellations and closures the story of a region being proactive, or of the province dropping the ball?

The list of essential services was anticipated by many to be strong and decisive; a harsh but temporary measure, to flatten the infection rate curve. Many were braced for a tight list of basic essentials – food, medicine, gas, transportation, infrastructure and manufacturing of medical equipment. We were prepared to weather two weeks of collective solitude, in solidarity against COVID-19.

What we got was nearly business as usual. In fact, many businesses in Fort Frances are cleared to re-open, being declared as essential. The small handful forced to close are largely main street shops, disproportionately impacted, as they lose even more business to wide open big boxes and online ordering.

COVID-19 has forced us to adapt to drastic measures: closed borders, indefinite March Breaks, decimated hospitality sectors and forced quarantines. We were ready and willing to go the distance. The provincial government should have led us there.