At the start of April, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, gatherings were limited to just five people, making it impossible for Meaford's Council to hold public meetings, so they ventured into new territory by holding meetings virtually and streaming them on YouTube. Thankfully, in-person council meetings are about to return.
Virtual council meetings made it possible for the business of this municipality to carry on in spite of the pandemic and the limits on public gatherings, but I think all involved would concede that they have been less than ideal.
We live in a rural area with less than stellar internet connections when compared to larger urban centres, and as a result individual members of Council would occasionally be unable to be seen or heard, and at times members of Council were unable to participate at all in the virtual council meetings. Shoddy internet connections aside, the virtual meetings made public participation, a crucial component of any council meeting, a challenge. In short, the virtual council meetings have been necessary but frustrating.
With the arrival of September, Council's August break has come to an end, and thankfully, when they hold their first meeting of the month on September 14, we won't be watching garbled connections online, but instead we will see the return of in-person meetings, though things won't quite be back to normal.
Instead of holding council meetings in the cramped quarters of the council chamber, they will be held at Meaford Hall, a facility with a larger capacity, making social distancing easier to accommodate.
Those wishing to once again attend council meetings in person need to be aware of the fact that things will be a little different. Screening will be required in order to enter Meaford Hall, which means that you will be required to provide some personal details (name and phone number) for contact tracing purposes, should someone attending the meeting later test positive for the virus. I have already heard from a couple of people who are less than pleased by what they consider an infringement of their rights and privacy in order to attend a public council meeting, and my only advice to those who feel that way is to stay home. I don't disagree with those who aren't comfortable with the collection of their personal details, I'm not a fan of the process either, but it is our current reality, and as mentioned, we aren't being forced to attend council meetings, so we certainly have the option of staying away.
Personal details aside, those attending the upcoming meetings of Council will be required to wear a face covering and to practise social distancing, something we've all become more and more accustomed to as this pandemic has dragged on.
We all know some folks who are dead set against being ordered to wear a mask, or to participate in contact tracing protocols, and I can understand some of the frustrations that they express, particularly when they point to the low numbers of cases in Grey and Bruce counties. That said, the low numbers we have seen in Grey-Bruce can no doubt in part be attributed to the majority following the directives by social distancing and wearing masks when distancing is a challenge.
We've just seen a stretch of more than two weeks (17 days) in Grey and Bruce counties with no new cases, and though that streak came to a halt on Monday with one new infection, in our neck of the woods, with just 128 cases in total and with only one currently active case, and no deaths reported, we have largely avoided the worst of what the dreaded virus could have brought upon us.
So it is time for the return of in-person council meetings, and I welcome this new small step toward a return of normalcy. If the number of new cases provincially continues to stabilize, I suspect we will see restrictions further eased, and before long council meetings will return to their rightful place in the council chamber.
Then again, with a second wave of the virus predicted in the autumn months, we could very well see a return of strict limits on social gatherings, though I hope that won't be the case, as I think it is safe to say that we have all had enough of this virus and everything it has brought with it.
The way this year has gone, I wouldn't place a bet either way, so while we might very well be on the road back to normalcy, the uncertainty continues.