By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Following an emergency council meeting Wednesday night, Cobourg will implement two measures in response to the provincial emergency declaration regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
First, the Rotary Harbourfront Park outdoor skating rink will close temporarily to institute measures even stricter than the ones put in place to limit skaters to an on-line reservation-only system with a capacity of 10 skaters at a time – since outdoor gatherings are now limited to five people.
And plans finalized this week to return to a regular schedule and a toonie fare for the conventional transit system are scrapped for now. Instead both conventional and Wheels transit will go to a reduced schedule that ends at 5:45 p.m. daily.
“I think we can all agree there’s a lot of confusion around what it means for individuals in the community, what they can or cannot do, where they can and cannot go, and what resources they can look at to find that information,” Chief Administrative Officer Tracey Vaughan said.
“The same can be said of municipalities. It’s quite a challenge when we have conflicting information on what municipalities are required to do.”
The five-person limit for outdoor gatherings is one example that poses challenges for the outdoor rink. They would have to begin notifying people with reservations during shut-down time that their spots are cancelled.
As for what happens then, there’s a lot to consider – if fewer people are allowed on the ice at a time, for example, they may have to shorten these shifts to allow more people to take advantage of this amenity.
And as for the five-person limit, Mayor John Henderson is still waiting to hear from Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini on what constitutes five people. Is that five skaters plus the auxiliary officer looking after registrations plus whatever parent accompanies a young skater and stays on the sidelines watching – or is that five people all told?
“Our dilemma is, we don’t know what five literally means,” Henderson said.
“I understand there’s a lot of confusion – trust me, I get it,” Councillor Adam Bureau said.
“But if somebody is walking to the rink or walking from the rink, will the bylaw enforcement officers sit on that or is it education first or hammering down on the fine?”
Education first is probably the way to go, Vaughan said.
“As for bylaw services, we are looking to a responsive model, responding to concerns or complaints of the public in terms of behaviour being exhibited that is in contravention of the provincial guidelines. I don’t suggest we would be actively looking for folks walking home from the rink and asking to see a piece of paper.”
“We need to err on the side of caution on this one,” Deputy Mayor Suzanne Seguin stated.
“It sounds like a temporary closure is the only way to go forward.”
Deputy Director of Community Services Teresa Behan expressed confidence that the rink could reopen as early as Saturday morning.
Director of Public Works Laurie Wills said council had three options regarding transit – proceed with the reinstitution of regular hours Jan. 26 as planned, keep the status quo as it is now (with hours for conventional transit reduced since the COVID-19 pandemic began), or keep reduced hours of operation for both conventional and Wheels accessible transit services.
Given shortened store hours and the stay-at-home order put into place in Ontario on Boxing Day, councillors figured there was not the need for Wheels to operate until 10 p.m. – and that shortened hours would be an incentive for people to stay home more.
Councillor Emily Chorley had a request – a new standing item on every council and committee-of-the-whole meeting on the status of COVID-19 cases and any news from the Emergency Control Group.
“Having a standing item on pandemic update and response allows council to hear what’s happening and ask questions and, if we need, to make a motion rather than going through a notice-of-motion process,” Chorley said.
“Because of the nature of the pandemic, the ever-evolving situation, I would recommend a verbal report,” Vaughan suggested.