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Provincial aid uncertain after Kenora's COVID-19 emergency declaration

City in worst COVID situation since pandemic began, says fire chief.
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The City of Kenora declared a state of emergency over a rising number of COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. (File photo)

KENORA – The City of Kenora is facing its worst COVID-19 crisis since the pandemic began, according to officials, but it remains uncertain whether its declaration of emergency will succeed in securing help from the province.

The city declared a local state of emergency on Tuesday, citing the rising number of local COVID-19 cases.

The Northwestern Health Unit was reporting 57 active cases Wednesday in the Kenora region, an area that also includes over a dozen First Nations. The city said it was not aware how many of those cases were in Kenora itself.

Kenora fire chief Kent Readman said local agencies were straining to keep up with the demand for medical services and emergency isolation supports.

“It’s been overwhelming on the community groups, our health care system, our police services – everyone involved is getting overwhelmed with the amount of cases we have and trying to control them,” he said. “Resources are spread really, really thin right now.”

Health workers and other support staff were struggling to provide services both at COVID-19 isolation centres and their normal places of employment, Readman said.

Those shelters were accommodating “quite a few” people, he said, including from vulnerable populations like those experiencing homelessness.

The city couldn't confirm how many people were using local isolation shelters, while the Kenora District Services Board didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

“We need clinical staff, we need mental health support,” Readman said. “All of those people are now transitioning from their normal everyday jobs to helping out at the isolation centres, and there’s just not enough people to go around, so they’re working really long days, really long nights, and just trying to make it through this surge that we’re seeing.”

The city has activated an emergency operations centre and is in regular communication with Ontario’s Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC), Readman said.

However, that’s far from a guarantee it will be receiving emergency aid from the province.

“There’s a challenge across the province, there’s limited health care resources province-wide,” Readman said. “We’re making asks, and I’m sure there’s lots of other municipalities making asks as well. I think everyone’s trying to pull together and see what they can do, but it’s a tough time.”

The fire chief said he had no indication of when the municipality might receive an answer on its asks.

The City of Kenora also remains under a previous general state of emergency it declared, along with many other Ontario municipalities, earlier in the pandemic.

The decision to issue a second state of emergency reflects a COVID-19 situation Readman said is more acute than at any time throughout the pandemic.

“This is the worse we’ve had it in Kenora since COVID started,” he said. “We felt it was important to declare a secondary state of emergency because this [outbreak] is putting so much strain on the resources we have, so it was important for our partners and for our municipality to bring some attention to that.”

The city has also closed municipal facilities like the Kenora Recreation Centre, public library, Lake of the Woods museum, and more to the public over the holidays in an attempt to prevent further spread of the virus.

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