By ROSALYN ROY
SOUTHWEST COAST – One year after the provincial government began implementing new measures to halt COVID-19 from gaining a foothold in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Southwest Coast has escaped relatively unscathed. There have been no large outbreaks here, merely rumours of a possible case or two. There is no queue-jumping for vaccinations, and residents have adapted to the new normal.
Some of that success can likely be attributed to the region’s COVID-19 Committee. The committee was initially formed at the Bruce II Sports Centre on a Sunday afternoon shortly after the province had confirmed its first case. In attendance were Town Manager Leon MacIsaac and Mayor John Spencer (Channel-Port aux Basques), (Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre) CEO David Palmer and Dr. David Thomas, Chief Medical Officer.
“The community was seeking direction in relation to its recreation facility. Hockey, figuring skating, bowling, the gym and curling were in full swing. It was decided at this meeting a recommendation would go to Town Council to cease operations at the Bruce II,” recounted Spencer via e-mail. “From there it was agreed to do a follow up, bring community and regional stakeholders together as the new cases surfaced within the province.”
Given the new and still-growing restrictions on gatherings and proximity, by necessity that evolved into virtual conferences involving multiple participants from around the Southwest Coast. These included municipal leaders, town clerks, representatives from Western Health, local doctors, MHAs, first responders, business leaders, church leaders, Marine Atlantic and the Canadian Red Cross.
“For the most part, for over a year now, participation is still at a very high level,” confirmed Spencer.
The meetings are designed to be straightforward and simple, focusing on sharing of information. Usually that means an initial briefing by Dr. Thomas and Dr. Wendy Graham. After that David Palmer outlines the availability of services and impact of services related to COVID-19 at the local site. After that there’s usually a question and answer session to allow for other participants to offer input, followed by a quick summary of how things are progressing in each area or community.
Maurice Collins of the Salvation Army in Port aux Basques is involved with the committee through the ministerial association.
“Basically I update them on what’s going on with the churches, how we’re handling the recommendations and guidelines. I talk to them about what’s happening with the food bank, what’s happening with the (community) kitchen, and of course, feed the truckers was part of that as well,” said Collins. “With the team that was there, it was a pretty informative team, right from government right down to medical.”
Collins said the group came together well right well from the start.
While the initial goal may have been geared more towards preventing people from getting COVID-19, that doesn’t mean the committee hasn’t continued to adapt and grow as other issues came to the forefront as the pandemic measures have dragged on.
“In all matters it was critical to not only understand the physical but to understand the emotional and mental stressors and the impact on individuals and families,” noted Spencer.
As restrictions eased and then were re-instituted, committee members had to be prepared to answer questions about the minutiae of everyday do’s and don’ts.
“For example, individuals would seek clarification on regulations pertaining to requirements at each alert level. What restrictions needed to be in place and time frames involved?” wrote Spencer.
Sometimes the committee found itself taking a more pro-active approach rather than just sharing information. They had to be prepared to act if an outbreak should occur in this region.
They sought clarification from the province about rotational workers for Marine Atlantic, which had reported that a crew member on the MV Blue Puttees tested positive for COVID-19.
“Another action was related to seeking more direction from the province in guidelines for the operation of an emergency shelter with COVID restrictions in place. At a number of meetings the group was expanded to bring in guests to discuss issues impacting education, provincial responsibility for enforcement and established testing sites in the event of a surge in cases within area.”
Although the provincial alert dropped to Level 2 this past Saturday, that doesn’t mean the COVID committee can relax anytime soon.
Stated Spencer, “The committee’s role has not changed now that vaccines have started to roll out within the general population. The virus is still with us. The committee will continue meeting on a bi-weekly basis until this pandemic is beyond us.”