Leamington, Kingsville 'left out of picture' as the rest of Windsor-Essex prepares to reopen
The selective reopening is 'divisive' and 'problematic,' says Kingsville mayor
The mayors of Leamington and Kingsville say it's "unfair" that their regions are being left behind as the rest of Windsor-Essex and the province have been able to move into Stage 2 of reopening.
"You're telling us as a community ... there's no direct risk, [then] why are we being left out of the picture?" Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos told CBC News.
Santos said it doesn't make sense that the municipalities won't get to reopen when the province and local health unit have made it clear that the majority of Kingsville's cases are concentrated in the agricultural sector and pose "no direct risk" to the community.
"We're on our own little mini island here, Kingsville [and] Leamington in Ontario, and it's incredulous to be treated with this level of unfairness," Santos said, adding that separating the community from the rest of the region is "divisive" and "problematic."
On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his government's plans for a regional reopening in parts of Windsor-Essex.
The City of Windsor and surrounding towns and municipalities, except for Leamington and Kingsville, will move into Stage 2 effective at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday.
In response to the Stage 2 reopening of Windsor, Mayor Drew Dilkens said it's a "welcomed" announcement, but that the region must continue to follow the guidelines set out by public health so that residents don't increase the risk of community transmission.
The news means that some local businesses will be open to reopen under "strict public health safety protocols," he said.
Dilkens added that he'll continue to fight to ensure the farming population has what it needs to move forward like the rest of the province.
Other regions looking forward to reopening include Amherstburg, the Town of Essex, Lakeshore, LaSalle, Pelee Island and Tecumseh.
Mayors concerned about sustaining local economy
Of top concern for both Santos and Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald are the small businesses in their regions that are struggling to stay afloat.
"I'm just sad and disappointed," MacDonald said, adding that residents in her community rely on their businesses to sustain their homes and feed their families.
If her community continues to be held back from reopening, MacDonald hopes to see some type of financial support from the government.
"We're the only ones in Ontario stuck here and they need help," she said.
Essex County Warden Gary McNamara, also the mayor of Tecumseh and the chair of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit's board of health, has previously expressed opposition to a regional reopening plan.
In an emailed statement to the media Wednesday, McNamara said residents and businesses in Leamington and Kingsville will suffer if Stage 2 cannot also be adopted there.
"They are hanging on right now, but they can't hang on much longer with the restrictions of Stage 1," he said.
"There will be layoffs and there will be closures unless support from the upper levels of government provide financial relief. I implore the premier and prime minister, please step up and help these businesses."
Santos added that not only did either region get a "heads-up" from Ford prior to Wednesday's announcement, they also haven't heard how the government plans on helping the locals in their area.
"I'm concerned about the long-term effect it's going to have on our struggling businesses to date and the residents who have been following the rules and requirements, making sacrifices throughout the entire pandemic," he said.
"This is a significant blow to us and it's frustrating."
While both Santos and MacDonald said they understand that farms in their region are experiencing outbreaks, both regions have implemented measures to control and reduce the spread of the virus.
With this in mind, MacDonald said it would make sense to isolate the farms but allow others in the community to move forward.
Six workplaces in Windsor-Essex's agricultural sector are currently under a COVID-19 outbreak. Two of the businesses are in Kingsville and four are in Leamington.
As of Monday, 475 of Windsor-Essex's 1,365 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in agri-farm workers.
Three migrant farm workers in Ontario, two of whom were working in Windsor-Essex, have also died after contracting COVID-19.
With files from Kaitie Fraser, Jennifer La Grassa and Dale Molnar