By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The spectre of COVID-19 is continuing to impact the way Chatham-Kent’s elected officials do business.
At the July 25 meeting, council decided to postpone returning to in-person meetings in the face of scientific modelling predicting future waves of the virus.
A discussion on the matter was sparked at council following an administrative report that recommended council return to face-to-face meetings in September.
The move could be premature.
Dr. April Rietdyk, general manager of community and human services – which oversees public health – reminded council COVID-19 isn’t over.
“Right now, COVID hospitalizations across the province are the highest they’ve been since May,” Rietdyk told the group, also noting new COVID outbreaks in long-term care homes across the province doubled the previous week.
“So, it is distressing to me as a public health practitioner that we are seeing a number of people that really firmly believe COVID is over. It’s not over.
Rietdyk said officials believe Ontario will see a wave of the pandemic in the fall and again in the spring 2023.
She said while the recent number of cases of COVID-19 have remained steady, the vaccination rate in Chatham-Kent remains low.
Currently, there are no public health measures in place in Ontario other than long-term care homes and retirement homes, Rietdyk said, adding it’s up to municipalities or organizations to put additional measures in place.
Cathy Hoffman, director of corporate services, said council meetings will only return in-person when it is safe to do so, noting Chatham-Kent’s COVID-19 policies are reviewed by the executive team on a regular basis.
Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman said that even though he has “absolutely disliked” attending council meetings virtually, he’s confused by the urgency of resuming in-person meetings.
He also wondered why the Medical Officer of Health hasn’t weighed in on council returning to in-person meetings.
However, Rietdyk said the MOH wouldn’t sign off on a report but would provide overall general guidance.
Council also heard all new municipal hires must be vaccinated, as well as committee or group members that meet on municipal property.
However, current employees who are not vaccinated are able to take Rapid Antigen Tests on their own and submit the results every 72 hours.
The municipality’s COVID-19 plan will continue for the foreseeable future.
The executive management team continues to review the situation on a regular basis.
Hoffman said that while some councils in neighbouring municipalities are meeting in-person, they are much smaller than Chatham-Kent’s 18-member council.
Rather than set a definitive date, council decided to act on a recommendation from interim chief administrative officer Tony Haddad to refer the issue back to administration to prepare a report relating to current medical information about the pandemic.
In a separate discussion, council also reviewed a report on revising council’s procedural bylaw that included results of a survey showing 70 per cent of council would like to have a “hybrid” meeting option so they could attend either virtually or in-person.
The report stated 58 per cent of council wanted attendance guidelines laid out for hybrid meetings, while 53 per cent did not want a limit set on the number of hybrid meetings a councillor could attend.
However, municipal clerk Judy Smith said the municipality does not currently have the technology to support hybrid meetings.
Voting cannot be accommodated with the present system, Smith said, and proxy voting is not allowed under the Municipal Act.
Council has now asked staff to prepare a report examining the issues to be returned before the end of this council’s current term.