ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- With 102 combined ongoing cases in Elgin and Oxford County as of Monday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Joyce Lock is asking 'to conserve our energy for the long months ahead, rather than spend it in disagreement.'

"We've noticed over the last seven weeks, some of the conversation on social media has been heated and not always supportive," says Lock. "We'd rather that people concentrate on supporting one another."

Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) wrote an open letter to the community Monday.

The letter speaks to community division over the challenges associated with the pandemic in the past nine months.

While Aylmer, Ont. wasn't named in the letter, it's clear the east Elgin County town is the epicentre of the divide between wearing a mask, and those 'Freedom' protestors.

Tensions have been running high for over a month.

"It's terribly on edge here, and divided... terribly divided," says Tom Robinson, a Aylmer resident who lives in long-term care.

Moises Wall, another Aylmer resident, said many people are confused.

"People don't know whether to hop on side of wearing mask, not wearing masks," says Wall. "I'm in the middle myself."

There are currently 23 active cases in Woodstock, 22 in St. Thomas, 19 in Aylmer and 13 in Ingersoll.

"It's really frustrating for those in politics and public health," says Dave Mennill, Elgin County's warden."We can't say anything more than we have already except to say we have to be careful because this is serious."

A pair of employees at No Frills in Aylmer have tested positive. Two students have tested positive at East Elgin Secondary School in Aylmer and one staff member at Terrace Lodge in Aylmer has tested positive.

"At Terrace Lodge we immediately went into shutdown," says Mennill. "Those are our vulnerable people in Elgin County (who) are in long-term care homes, and we are doing best we can to put a cap on this."

Mennill and Lock are both concerned that SWPH is on the verge of going into the red-control restriction zone.

"Our numbers are going up, and it's number of cases that really drives whether you stay in one colour or go to red," says Lock.

"We at SWPH are concerned that may happen, but that said it’s in the hands of each and every one of us. We need to interact as if the person we are talking to has COVID-19."

In the letter SWPH details four things which they say, "It is now time to focus on what we can agree on":

  • We have a common desire to protect the community we love.
  • COVID-19 affects some people more than others; we are concerned about our most vulnerable.
  • Having strong, connected, supportive communities protects our health and well-being.
  • We each have actions we can personally take that will reduce the spread of this virus in our communities.

"At the end of this pandemic – and there will be an end – we will again gather in comfort and in ease, at hockey arenas, and school barbecues, at worship, and at weddings, knowing we did our best to protect and care for the communities that we love," says Lock.

A full copy of the letter is available here.