County mayors and the warden say it’s okay for cottagers to come to Haliburton County for the Victoria Day long weekend, as long as they’re responsible.

Premier Doug Ford said this week that backed by encouraging trends on COVID-19 testing, cottagers could be enjoying the May long weekend by the lake. He also said he would consult with cottage country mayors.

Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin and Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said municipalities have no authority or laws to tell people they can’t come to their cottages.

Devolin added if people are social distancing and responsible “it isn’t a huge deal where people are. “There was some initial reaction in grocery stores by people coming and buying all of the toilet paper in sight but that seems to have abated. I’m not saying that I’m not worried, but I am less worried than a few weeks ago … but I still have concerns about more people with relatively limited health facilities and the challenges that could present, although it hasn’t yet.”

Moffatt agreed, saying small communities have legitimate concerns about medical, emergency and community resources, and Haliburton County is “a highly vulnerable community.”

But Devolin said if COVID-19 were to spike, the premier would quickly adjust his thinking.

Moffatt said many seasonal people have chosen to stay away, but many are already here, and many more are planning to come. She added she’s seen good and bad behaviour on all sides, “so let’s stop the finger-pointing. The virus could hitch a ride with seasonal folks just as easily as with the myriad daily deliveries coming into the County, or with those who are still going in and out of the County to Walmart and Costco. It’s the unnecessary moving in and out of the County that needs to stop.”

She advised people going to the cottage to “stay there, and fully understand what can and can’t be done here right now. Things are closed and cancelled, and some store shelves are persistently empty. These are very trying times and we’re all inconvenienced.”

She said all residents need to be informed and respect the moving pieces behind local decision-making. She said, ultimately, public health recommendations must be upheld.

“This isn’t about rights. It’s about doing the right thing – by everyone and for everyone.”

Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said many seasonal residents are already here, and more will come for the May long weekend.

“Cottagers own property here and there is nothing telling them they can’t come. I’m sure if people come to their cottage, they will be respectful of the same rules around COVID-19 as they have at their primary residence.”

Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton said the message his township would like to get out is that “we are all in this together. Please follow the rules, maintain physical distancing, do not gather in groups, stay at home if you are sick, no campfires, be prepared and everyone be respectful.”

County Warden Liz Danielsen said that throughout the pandemic, she’s been vocal in saying seasonal and permanent residents have equal rights, and understands why cottagers might want to come, feeling safer. She added they’re welcome as long as they follow guidelines and understand and respect our health system’s fragility.

“They are the driving force of our economy, and, as they pay taxes year-round like we all do, we should be hard-pressed to say that they aren’t welcome. I would urge everyone, regardless of our desire to get our economy back on track, to remember that we are not out of the woods yet and must all remain vigilant to avoid further spread or another outbreak of the virus.”

(With files from Joseph Quigley)

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