Exactly one year after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, Canadians were asked to remember those who lost their lives, as well as healthcare staff and other workers on the frontline during the past 12 months. To date, 69 people have died in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) area, 31 of whom were in Prescott-Russell communities.
The flags in front of federal, provincial, and municipal buildings across the region were at half-mast to recognize the day. In a statement, Champlain mayor Normand Riopel said the pandemic would “leave an important scar in the lives of our residents”. He asked residents to observe a moment of silence at 1:00 p.m.
“On my behalf, and the other council members and administration staff, we would like to offer our deepest condolences to the affected families,” he said. “We would also like to thank all the frontline workers who are fighting against the coronavirus and to thank you for your efforts and dedication.”
Clarence-Rockland mayor Guy Desjardins praised the resilience of residents and business owners, and paid tribute to those who had died and frontline workers. “Our health care, and essential workers continue to provide services in difficult conditions, while some of our neighbours have unfortunately lost their jobs,” he said. “The flags at City Hall are at half-mast today to mark this sad day, and to commemorate the memory of our family members and friends who are no longer with us because of this virus. Let us take a few minutes to pay tribute and honour them in our thoughts.”
Hawkesbury mayor Paula Assaly asked residents to continue practising social distancing and other safety measures to prevent further spread. She said the anniversary was an opportunity to “dwell on the solidarity, the friendship and the tokens of comfort exchanged in recent months”.
“March 2020 marked the beginning of an extraordinary period,” she said. “Let us come together as a nation to reflect on this past year, which has affected us all in one manner or another.”
Counting the cost
Since the first case of COVID-19 in the EOHU was publicly confirmed on March 14, 2020, 2933 cases have been reported, 1237 of them in Prescott-Russell.
Across Prescott-Russell, Clarence-Rockland was the municipality that recorded the highest number of cases over the past year. The city marked 312 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past 12 months, due in part to a surge in January during the province’s lockdown and state of emergency.
The outbreak at the Prescott and Russell Residence in Hawkesbury, one of the deadliest at long term care homes in the region, contributed to the 253 confirmed cases in that town over the last year. Russell Township had 235 cases, Alfred-Plantagenet had 174, while The Nation had 102. Casselman and Champlain marked 76 cases each, while East Hawkesbury had 11.
Beginning of the end?
The case count, however, has since been eclipsed by the number of vaccines administered in the region. As of the end of last week, 14,409 doses of the vaccine had been administered in the EOHU. The residents of every long term care home in the region have received both doses of the vaccine, while efforts continued at retirement homes and for frontline workers. An online booking system launched this week allowed those aged 80 and over to book appointments for their first dose.
EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said the vaccines were a “light at the end of the tunnel”, but the return to normality would take longer than many people would expect. “I see the beginning of the end, but it’s going to be long,” he said. “Just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean you can take off masks, but that will be a progressive thing.”