Lord Mayor Betty Disero says she thinks the province is returning to normal too quickly.
“I am concerned they’re opening too fast,” she said. “For them to turn around and say all retail (can open) — like wow. That’s big.”
She said the town's emergency team has been scrambling to figure out how to manage the situation in town, for example, picnic tables and benches.
“If you saw what happened in Toronto on the weekend and our own parks and that, people are not adhering to when the premier says we're opening up (slowly). He can say it's a slow reopening — and that's what we've been trying to tell people — but it seems like it's going awfully quickly.”
She said she worries people will become “complacent.”
“This transition time is going to be a real difficult time in terms of going from totally closed to open, and we have to be very careful about what we do. Our numbers were really good in terms of 21 with five (now three cases) left to resolve, but particularly since we have so many people coming back from being away in the winter, I'm really pleased that we were able to keep it down as low as we did,” she said.
“But now if people start to get complacent, that's going to be difficult. And it's not even residents that are complacent. They've been so cooperative, but sometimes when people visit, they get a little complacent.”
She said it also makes things difficult for trying to enforce distancing rules.
“Now what they say in the regulation is even if you use a picnic table or a bench, you have to still maintain social distancing and you cannot be sitting at a picnic table or a bench with anybody else unless they live in the same house as you do — how do you enforce that? It’s an impossible task. So all we can do is put signs on the picnic tables and the benches saying ‘use at your own risk, social distance, only members of your family … all that kind of stuff,” she said.
Other problems include how to manage recreational facilites like tennis courts and soccer fields, she said. And opening up a large number of things can confuse people.
“And I’m reading these regulations,” she said. “Can you imagine people that aren’t? They’re going to be totally confused. And if people are confused, they’re going to make mistakes. So maybe they’re going to go into a place where maybe they’re not supposed to be there but they thought maybe it was open … because there’s so much that opened so quickly.”
She said her biggest concern, aside from management, is the risk of a second wave of the virus reaching Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“That scares me more than anything else,” she said. “That there could be a second wave, and if we are a part of it, I’m really worried about that. I just want to run to every person in Niagara-on-the-Lake and say ‘Stay six feet away from everybody!’ I just want protect them all and I’m so concerned that people may end up sick.”
She added, “So I keep repeating myself — stay at home, keep your distance. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face unless you wash your hands. And hopefully people will — at least people here living in Niagara-on-the-Lake — that they will take heed of that, and really, when we have a day full of visitors and guests, I’m hoping that they won’t go for a walk on Queen Street, or they’ll wait for a day that’s not as busy. I’m really worried. I don’t want anybody sick.”
As of now, the province has “kind of let the genie out of the bottle.”
She is happy the province said kids won’t be going back to school until September.
“That’s one less thing to have to worry about for now, although it creates its own issues with respect to day care and people that are having to go back to work, what they’re going to do with their children who are not at school. But it’s safer for the children.”
She said Niagara-on-the-Lake has been fortunate to avoid a first wave of the virus.
“Knock on wood,” she said.
Right now the town doesn’t have any plans to close things down further independent of the province, she said, as it’s too hard to manage with retail shops and restaurants open for curbside pickup.
“There wasn’t enough parking on Queen Street alone to handle the store owners, their employees, the residential tenants upstairs and customers. So we had to open up the area.”
She said the town is “still interested” in assessing the amount of traffic coming into town, as well as keeping “ambassadors” in the parks to keep people moving.