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Health unit will close beaches in Bruce and Grey to keep day trippers at bay

The Grey Bruce Health Unit has a message for one-day visitors in advance of the May long weekend: stay home.
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The Grey Bruce Public Health Unit has ordered that all beaches remain closed for the next two weeks. Jennifer Golletz/CollingwoodToday

In an effort to reduce weekend travellers coming into the region, the Grey Bruce Health Unit (GBHU) is closing beaches for the next two weeks.

“It was with full support from all political municipal leaders in Grey Bruce that we close the beaches,” said Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health for GBHU during a Grey County council meeting held earlier today.

“As you know we [Grey Bruce] have a population of 166,000. However, over the five-month summer season, we receive over 2.2 million people,” Arra said. “That is quite a change in the demography of Grey Bruce. We have been very successful in [COVID-19] compliance and with excellent results. However, it might be more difficult to manage communication with the arrival of this subpopulation.”

Arra says he thinks of the Grey Bruce’s population in three subcategories – permanent residents, part-time residents or cottagers, and one-day visitors.

“We know that we have the appropriate messaging for the first group. The second sub-population, cottagers, I have no reason to believe that the same recommendations wouldn’t work with them. Likely within two weeks, we would be able to bring these part-time residents up to a level of compliance that our residents have,” Arra said, adding that the third sub-population is a tricky one.

“By definition, these people are arriving one day and leaving on the same day. Most come to vacation, whether it is the beach or any other activity. The last thing on their mind is to listen to the Ministry about public health recommendations,” he said.

Over the weekend the province announced the opening of the provincial parks, however, Arra says after additional conversations with the Ministry of Environment, he has confirmed that only the trails at the provincial parks have been opened.

“Beaches [at these provincial parks] are closed. Campgrounds are closed and amenities are closed,” he stated.

Arra explains that the order to close beaches will come from him as the medical officer of health directed to Grey Bruce municipalities, not individuals. This will give municipalities the ability to enforce the order with the help of the local OPP detachment. It is a regional, not a provincial order.

“All enforcement agencies are in support of this, including the OPP,” said Arra. “This should be an effective public health intervention for the coming two weeks to reduce the travel to our area from one-day visitors.”

Arra added that he will also be speaking with CBC Radio on Friday morning at 7:15 a.m. in an effort to spread the message to people who may be thinking about travelling to the area this coming long weekend.

“Communication and communication across multiple channels is really critical in getting the message out,” said Grey County CAO, Kim Wingrove. “It is so important to strike the right tone with this. We want people to comply and do that for all of the right reasons.”

Up until this point, GBHU has seen low COVID-19 numbers within its boundaries in comparison to other regions in Ontario, with only 91 total cases to-date and no deaths or hospitalizations.

GBHU’s long-term care (LTC) facilities have also been able to stay on top of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We have a total of four LTC outbreaks. Two of them have resolved and two of them have a total of only three patients,” reported Arra. “None of the patients have any symptoms, which is all-in-all an excellent result relative to what the situation could be or relative to other parts of the province.”

“We have been very low in our numbers and we want to keep it that way,” added Grey County Warden, Paul McQueen.

Sauble Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the Grey Bruce region, and under this order, it would be closed along with beaches in Craigleith, Thornbury, and Meaford.

The order for beach closures is expected to be released later today and will come into effect tomorrow, May 15.

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Jennifer Golletz

About the Author: Jennifer Golletz

Jennifer Golletz covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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