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No plans to end virtual council meetings amid rising COVID-19 cases

'As long as we’re in this state of emergency ... we’re going to be virtual for a while,' mayor says
2020-08-24 Orillia city council online
Orillia council members are shown during a virtual meeting. Screenshot

The City of Orillia is heeding the health unit’s advice when it comes to virtual versus in-person meetings.

In August, Mayor Steve Clarke noted the goal was to move to hybrid council meetings in October, but the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic has continued to put those plans on pause.

In a recent memo to councils in the region, Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, urged them to stick with virtual meetings.

“While the Reopening Ontario Act does not restrict in-person council meetings, I continue to recommend remote attendance as the safest means of meeting at this time given the ongoing potential for transmission of COVID-19,” he wrote.

City and council officials frequently discuss the possibility of moving to hybrid or in-person meetings, as well as ending the state of emergency, Clarke said, but when that might happen remains unclear.

“One of the keys to stopping the transmission is getting the five- to 12-year-olds vaccinated. It looks like approval is imminent,” he said.

However, he added, “with concerning case rates across the province, and certainly in Simcoe-Muskoka, it looks like we’re going to be in it for a little longer.

“Because we’re not there yet, we’re not likely to have council meetings in person. As long as we’re in this state of emergency and there are rising cases, we’re going to be virtual for a while.”

Clarke is the only council member in the council chamber for meetings during the pandemic, along with the CAO and staff from the clerk’s department, though additional staff have been attending in person for the ongoing budget deliberations.

If there’s enough demand from other members of council to move to hybrid or in-person meetings, the matter will be revisited, Clarke said.

“I will listen to anything council wants to do, but I would caution that their decisions are based on current information,” he said.