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Community adjusting to a sometimes confusing ‘new normal,’ local leaders say

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Cathy Dobson

Sarnia’s economy is cautiously regaining steam and employees are slowly returning to work in some sectors, local leaders say.

The entire community is learning how to navigate the “new normal” and stay safe during the pandemic while attempting some level of economic recovery, said Mayor Mike Bradley.

“We’re doing everything we can to move the community forward, but we also don’t want to rapidly jump ahead and find out we have to take things back,” he told an online panel discussion of local leaders Tuesday.

The building trades were hit hard by the pandemic but many are returning to work this month, said Jason McMichael, president of the Sarnia & District Labour Council.

Only 25% of building trades continued to work when COVID-19 peaked in April. But that number is now 50% to 60% and expected to increase to 80% by the end of June, he said.

“It’s great news for our workers, their families, and it means more workers are spending money in our community,” he said.

The building trades are a key component of the local workforce and represent about 10% of the city’s population, McMichael said.

Virtually all the building trades workers that remained on the job have managed to avoid COVID-19, with only two cases reported so far, he added.

The online discussion focused on the city’s economic recovery during a period many suspect is a lull between the pandemic’s first and second wave.

As the province slowly allows stores and workplaces to reopen, they must adapt to new physical distancing rules and other protocols meant to limit the virus’ spread.

But exactly what those are is frustratingly unclear, Mayor Bradley said.

“We need to move forward in a manner that doesn’t take us back to where we were two months ago.”

Those protocols are set by the province, not the municipalities or local primary control groups, he noted.

The city has no say on which stores open or the number of people allowed in those stores, but is required to do the enforcement, said Bradley.

Two notable exceptions this spring were Sarnia’s move to close boat launch ramps and ban backyard fires. Both measures have since been rescinded.

Wearing a mask in public is a provincial guideline, not a law, and has created a lot of confusion, the mayor said.

“Our biggest problem is trying to understand what they want us to do.”

City council has voted to loosen the rules on restaurant patios, Bradley said.

“Otherwise the city’s role is very limited.”

When asked for clarity on the precautions local residents should take when out in the community, Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Sudit Ranade, said the basics like physical distancing and frequent handwashing should be followed. The province continues to limit social gatherings to no more than five people.

No specific guidelines exist on how many people are allowed in a store or workplace, Ranade said.

“Do what you can to stay two metres away,” he said. “What we’ve learned it that incidental contacts when you go out to do the things you need to do, are not very risky.”

The risk rises when people are in contact with large groups or have parties, Dr. Ranade said.

Wearing masks is a matter of personal discretion, not a law or bylaw, he said.

“I’ve made no specific recommendation about wearing PPE in stores. We’d consider that kind of contact to be incidental (and low risk).”

 

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