It’s time to welcome back cottagers

As restrictions ease, expect to see seasonal residents return


By Don Norman

Yesterday, a number of Manitoba businesses were allowed to reopen. Oddly, this is seen as controversial by some. I’ve read many comments on social media saying the lifting of restrictions in the province is too much too soon.

I think it’s important to look at the wider picture. Manitoba is one of the luckiest jurisdictions on the continent when it comes to COVID-19. It has essentially been contained here. As of yesterday, there were only 37 active cases. That’s low. It’s true that there are more people who have the virus but are unaware of it. But remember, most of us have been fairly locked down for the past several weeks. With even the mildest flu symptoms, most of us would have self-quarantined. Even carriers of the virus who are not showing symptoms would have had very little opportunity to spread it in the community.

Locally, the picture is even better. As of yesterday, there have been 19 total cases (currently 17 confirmed, two probable) announced in the Interlake-Eastman Health Region (IEHR). The government doesn’t release active cases by health region but data suggests that recovery from the COVID-19 virus takes between 2-3 weeks and there hasn’t been a new case in the IEHR since April 16. Based on that information, the active cases in this region right now are likely between 0 and 1.

Estimated active COVID-19 cases in the Interlake-Eastern Health Region. (*Estimates based on a 21 day recovery time). Click to view full size.

The fact is, the shut down worked. In Manitoba, we have contained the virus. None of this means we can throw caution to the wind. There were still nine new cases over the past week. It hasn’t been eradicated, but we should welcome the measured lifting of restrictions that were announced for today.

The latest government fact sheet relating to cottage owners (issued on the same day the loosening of restrictions was announced) still opens with “Public health officials advise Manitobans to stay home as much as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” But it also contains a bunch of information on how cottagers should conduct themselves and was also released on the same day that they announced campgrounds would be allowed to open.

So, we will have an influx of people coming to the area. The province expects them to head to their cottages and so should we. Once again, the population of the East Beaches and Lac du Bonnet will swell. And I think we should welcome them.

A month ago, we were all concerned about the possibility of a surge in local cases with the influx of these area property owners. The Province warned against going to cottage country because an outbreak in smaller centres could be a burden on local health care facilities. It’s a different picture now. Let’s accept and embrace it.

What concerns me is that the pandemic will inflame the already touchy issue surrounding seasonal residents. It’s irksome to many permanent residents that part-timers hold such sway over local politics when they don’t even live out here full time. But let’s remember that they pay taxes and support local businesses – businesses that have been hard hit by this pandemic. And let’s also remember that many of those part timers end up making this their permanent home.

A month ago, I would have been questioning the wisdom of allowing cottagers to leave the city for their weekend homes during the pandemic. But it’s different today.  If current trends continue, the number of active cases in the province will be between 10 and 20  by the Victoria Day weekend.

If you’re still concerned, or if you’re in a high-risk category, by all means continue to isolate. But let’s not berate people for enjoying the new freedoms we have been granted. And let’s welcome our summertime neighbours back – if not with open arms, then at least with a smile.

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