The Sudbury Star article published January 1, 2021
It has been more than 10 months since Ontario first had evidence of community spread of COVID-19 and the first person tested positive in northeastern Ontario.
Since that time, the nightly news has tended to focus on the impact of COVID-19 in larger centres, but small towns like Elliot Lake have also seen dramatic changes as a result of the pandemic.
The community of Elliot Lake took many initiatives to help stop the spread of COVID-19 back in March. Right away, the city took steps to help keep the population safe, including starting a grocery delivery program for seniors and people with compromised immune systems.
The businesses of Elliot Lake also took proactive steps, with many non-essential businesses shutting down even before being ordered to do so by the provincial government.
Even the ski hill shut down in the middle of March Break, foregoing days of anticipated revenue.
These were tremendous sacrifices for these businesses, but important to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Most important, the people of Elliot Lake took the advice of Public Health and stayed home.
Then people pitched in.
People and businesses donated PPE to the hospital: masks and face shields, and over two dozen people sewed hundreds of isolation gowns for the hospital, made from sheets donated by individuals and businesses.
The work and dedication of the administration and staff of St. Joseph’s Hospital as they took steps to protect the patients and residents and prepared for a surge of patients was phenomenal.
Hours were spent putting policies into place and procuring needed equipment and supplies, as well as training staff, all during a time when our understanding of COVID-19 was changing rapidly.
The clinic, too, took prompt action to help stop the spread of COVID-19, transitioning over one weekend to providing mainly virtual care for patients. A COVID-19 Assessment Centre was set up and running before the Ministry of Health even requested it.
The anticipated surge of people sick with COVID-19 has not yet been seen in Elliot Lake.
This is no accident of fate. The surge never came because the people of Elliot Lake did what they had to do. They stayed home, they practised social distancing and they avoided nonessential travel.
Then, when the restrictions lifted, there was more commitment. People wore masks out in public, many people even before it was mandated. Businesses carefully planned to reopen. They put out hand sanitizer for customers, put up plexiglass barriers, and reorganized their businesses to protect their clients.
As expected, with the lifting of restrictions, the second wave has come.
But the people of Elliot Lake are still being careful. Sometimes they debate what is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19, but they try to keep each other safe.
Through all of this, the people of Elliot Lake have also taken action to raise the morale of the community.
People have decorated their windows with hopeful messages, and organized parades to celebrate important events: birthdays and retirements and even Easter.
The schools made signs for graduating students to display to celebrate their success, and the City organized a static Christmas parade.
People also made donations to local charities to support community members through this, and a recent food drive raised more than $17,000 for the food bank.
And now there is hope for an end to this.
Vaccines are being delivered to the province and in the next six to nine months we will see a significant portion of the population vaccinated. We are more than halfway through this.
So, let’s hang in there and keep doing what we need to do.
We have a few challenging months ahead of us, with winter weather likely to increase people’s feelings of isolation and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 as people spend more time indoors. This is a critical time to continue to support each other in our communities.
We need to renew our commitment to stop the spread of COVID-19 and remember that it was simple public health measures that brought the first wave under control.
We can do what we need to do to protect our communities while we wait for the vaccination programs to take effect.
Dr. Cathy Groh is a member of the Elliot Lake Family Health Team.