Planning for an unusual winter

It is going to be a very different winter in Haliburton County and municipal officials, and others, will have to plan prudently for what is to come.

In today’s paper, we touch base with some snowbirds to see what their plans are. Many of them load up vehicles and drive south this time of year. However, with COVID-19 closing the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential travel, their only option is to fly.

Some are choosing to do so. That choice naturally comes with risk. They are exposing themselves to the virus as they head to southern Ontario and Pearson International Airport and then board planes for Florida, Arizona, Mexico and elsewhere. They are arriving in cities where the pandemic continues to spike. Most are banking on the fact their end destination will be away from hotspots and they’ll stick to themselves to avoid risk. They are chasing the sun and checking on properties. For them, it is worth the risk.

Many others are making the decision to stay in the Haliburton, Minden, Dorset and Wilberforce areas. For them, the prospect of contracting the virus supersedes their need for warmth or property checks.

We can add to the mix the anecdotal accounts that we are hearing from cottagers who plan to stay much later into the fall and even into the winter this year. Essentially it means we could have a few more thousand people in the County going forward.

The Haliburton County Paramedic Service is one organization that has already planned for the influx. They’re buying another ambulance so they can cope with the expected increase in call volume.

Some snowbirds who are staying put have said they’re worried about our older population coping with winter conditions, which can include snow piling up between parked cars and the sidewalk in Haliburton Village. They’re concerned about being able to get around with reduced mobility. The four townships will have to plan for a more robust approach to snow clearing this winter, bearing in mind there will be more aged folks trying to get around.

The recreation departments also have a challenge. What, if any, winter programing can they offer seniors while also keeping everyone safe from COVID? Will Minden Hills be able to open its new arena walking track and gym? Will there be winter walking in other arenas? The Township of Algonquin Highlands is working hard to get the Dorset Recreation Centre open for seniors there.

Haliburton Highlands Health Services will have to continue to plan for all eventualities, including a possible surge in its services for both flu and COVID with a larger at-risk population. It will be very tricky, for example, not having a walk-in clinic in the County for those coming down with ordinary colds and flus or non-life-threatening injuries. If they don’t have family doctors, and can’t get in to see family doctors, they’ll simply clog the emergency departments in Minden and Haliburton.

Social service agencies will see an increased demand. Private businesses, too, must now plan for greater demand, whether it is food ordering by local grocery stores or companies that supply oil and propane. The snowbirds will be looking for help to clear their driveways and walkways.

Being Haliburton County residents, we all know we’ll collectively do our best to ensure everyone gets through the winter. Let’s face it, we’re the types that will offer to pick up groceries for shut-in neighbours or roll the snowblower over to help out an elderly shoveler. However, it’s our businesses, municipalities and other organizations that need to plan now for the heavy community lifting that is to come.

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