By Lisa Gervais
This past weekend – and continuing into this week – I’ve been disturbed by the social media exchanges between full-time residents and our cottagers.
For weeks, locals have been saying that they were uncomfortable with the influx of seasonal residents over March break and extending into the now three weeks since. People were sending us emails telling us the grocery stores and pharmacies in Haliburton and Minden, and presumably Wilberforce and Dorset, were full of seasonal residents buying up stock and not practicing social distancing.
We heard stories of van loads stopping at gas stations and not following provincial COVID-19 guidelines. There were tales of city dwellers descending on cottages en masse and congregating in driveways.
Perhaps some of this did happen. Maybe not. There’s a pretty good chance some all-year residents were also engaging in risky health practices. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
In times such as these, fear and anxiety tend to override common sense. The panic gets in the way of civility. Locals lashed out. They told cottagers to stay away. They were upset they were buying supplies when the local supply chain is not set up for an influx of visitors in March and into early April. It hasn’t been about stuff either. They expressed concern that out-of-towners coming from more densely-populated places could speed up the transmission of the virus locally. If there was a spread, how could our tiny hospitals – with 15 beds, four transport ventilators and no intensive care units – cope. They were justified in their concerns.
As for seasonal folk, one can understand their desire to get away from the city. Living on top of one’s neighbour makes it hard to practice social distancing to the same extent and one is exposed to the virus to a greater degree. With the walls closing in, why not go to the cottage? After all, it’s bought and paid for, including with hefty municipal taxes. They were justified in their reasoning.
The problem rested with those who did not follow the rules: who stopped for a big shop on their way and didn’t keep six feet apart. Those who have come without stopping, bringing weeks and months of supplies, and social distancing, are welcome. They are not putting anybody at risk. And those who have said, if they feel unwell, they will directly drive back to the city, are appreciated.
What is not acceptable is the hateful vitriol on social media and the veiled – and in some cases – not veiled threats. Some locals have been very courteous in asking (as has Premier Doug Ford, County Warden Liz Danielsen and the physicians of Haliburton County) cottagers to consider staying in their primary residences for the duration of COVID-19. Others have not. They have been extremely rude and forgotten how important our neighbours from the south are to us. I don’t just mean financially, either. Many have been coming for decades and are our friends.
In the same way, I have to chastise those cottagers who have gotten on their high horses, stubbornly saying they own the place, pay taxes, and if it wasn’t for them, we would all be financially doomed. Some have threatened to never shop locally again after the dust settles.
C’mon, people. I know everyone is on edge. However, there is no need for the angst and fear to spill over into our decades-old relationship. Let’s remember the one thing we all have in common and that is our love of Haliburton County. Let’s not do any more to destroy that. After all, COVID-19 will end and we have to go back to living with each other.