Haldimand-Norfolk stands firm after Ontario's chief MOH says cottage order is unnecessary

Haldimand-Norfolk's medical officer of health is holding firm on his order preventing people from going to their cottages, even after a memorandum from Ontario's medical officer of health said it isn't necessary.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's medical officer of health, says people should still stay away

Long Point is a popular destination for cottagers in Haldimand and Norfolk, but cottagers from outside the area can't go there right now. (ontarioparks.com)

Haldimand-Norfolk's medical officer of health is holding firm on his order preventing people from going to their cottages, even after a memorandum from Ontario's chief medical officer of health said it isn't necessary.

Dr. Shanker Nesathurai says his April 23 order forbidding people outside Haldimand and Norfolk from accessing their "secondary residences" there is important to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The order, mailed to 4,300 people on May 1, formalizes what health officials have already been saying, he said. That is "to stay home, and avoid overwhelming our small, rural health care system."

"If everyone follows this direction, we can break the chain of virus transmission, avoid prolonging the pandemic, and get back to a more normal way of life," Nesathurai said in an emailed statement.

This comes after Dr. David WIlliams sent out a memo Sunday about the vacation home issue. The memo was sent to medical officers of health across the province.

In the memo, Williams said an order isn't necessary, but that health units should still tell people to stay away.

There are about 4,300 people who have secondary residences located in Haldimand and Norfolk, some in Turkey Point. (Norfolk County)

"My current recommendation is to not prohibit access to secondary residences through legal order, but to continue to provide communications that discourage their use," Williams said in the memorandum, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News. 

He also recommended medical officers of health not issue Section 22 orders, which is what Nesathurai issued.

"My advice has been, and remains, that people should preferentially stay home and not access secondary residences, recognizing that there may be limited, essential reasons to do so."

David Jensen, Ministry of Health spokesperson, elaborated Tuesday.

If people have to visit their secondary homes for essential reasons, "Dr. Williams recommends that they do not co-mingle with individuals outside their household, that they bring their own groceries and limit visits to the community," he said. "Should they need to leave their residence for essential reasons, they should practise social distancing and hygiene etiquette."

Owners of secondary residences have been vocal about the order. Lake Erie communities have partially flooded this year, said Robyn Hanson, co-owner of Long Point's Sandboy Marina, in an interview this week. Cottage owners need to get to their secondary homes to pump out water. Lakeside economies also rely on the clientele.

Premier Doug Ford also questioned the order, saying owners of secondary residences have been good at avoiding cottage areas so far. 

"How do you tell people who are paying the taxes, paying the bills … to stay home?" he said Tuesday.

Ford had a conference call with "cottage country" mayors today, which included Mayor Kristal Chopp of Norfolk, who also serves as chair of the board of health.

Haldimand and Norfolk have seen 196 cases of COVID-19 so far, and 30 people have died. Twenty-seven deaths and 101 confirmed cases have been at Anson Place Care Centre in Hagersville. 

Nesathurai said he's trying to prevent more. The province has already closed recreational vehicle parks, trailer parks and campgrounds, he said. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the life of every person, family, and business in Haldimand County and Norfolk County," he said. 

"It is for this reason that the public health message has been to 'stay at home, save a life.'"

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca