Motion meant to allow for ‘strict physical distancing in the outdoors’: Kingston councillor

A Kingston, Ont., councillor has proposed a motion to allow local government and public health officials to have flexibility when dealing with the province’s coronavirus emergency orders, especially when it comes to outdoor activities.

Coun. Robert Kiley’s motion, set to go to council Tuesday night, suggests council ask the province for “local flexibility to provincial orders, based on local public health units’ advice,” in order for Kingstonians to access certain activities, like community gardens, “while continuing to implement physical distancing and other guidelines to ensure newly reopened community activities are places of safety and health for residents.”

Kiley says the motion was born out of concerns about community gardens not being allowed under the current Emergency Measures and Civic Protection Act.

So I heard from a number of residents over the last few weeks that they want to be in community gardens, gardening in a physically-distant, very health-and-safety-focused way. So not together, but apart,” Kiley said.

Kiley said he paid close attention to what happened when the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority’s decided to close all of its trails in the region, which they said they did in accordance with the province’s orders to close recreational spaces.

Dr. Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for the region, said he understood the conservation authority’s decision, but in the end, suggested it may be more beneficial to those in the area to reopen the trails, considering the health benefits of the trails and Kingston’s low community transmission numbers.

The conservation authority said they would be reconsidering their decision during their April 22 board meeting, based on advice from Moore.

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Kiley said he was inspired to write the motion following discussion with public health and the CAO concerning the reopening of local trails, and the importance of local community gardens.

He noted in his motion, and to Global News, that larger urban areas in the province may have benefited more from the widespread closing of outdoor recreation spaces, but locally, this may not be the case.

Although some have taken Kiley’s motion to mean ignoring the province’s emergency orders altogether and getting back to normal, Kiley says it’s not the case, and that really, he wants to be able to tailor physical distancing laws to the local situation by using local public health official’s guidance, rather than province-wide regulations.

And the point is, it’s not like things are opening up tomorrow. Businesses are not going to be opening up. People are not going to be allowed to have parties or parades. This is not about mass congregation. This is about strict physical distancing in the outdoors,” Kiley said.

If KFL&A were to say that this motion is not in keeping with best practices medically, we would pull it back. This is always about empowering our medical officer of health and ensuring that we have a reasonable regional response to the COVID situation in this area.”

Moore said he was briefed on the motion, but said any kind of relaxation on physical distancing was not prudent until gaps in the region’s health-care system were fixed, namely that the region has a large enough supply of personal protective equipment and larger testing capacity.

Once those two major issues are addressed, he said he believes, as long as Kingston’s numbers stay stable, there could be slow reintroduction of some now barred services and acitivites.

“Whatever we do, it’ll have to be phased,” Moore said about potentially easing any current restrictions.

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