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From cancelled birthday parties to business as usual, Newmarket reacts to COVID-19

NewmarketToday asked if you are changing habits and plans in the wake of the new coronavirus; here's what you said
20200310 Walmart sold out masks kc
People are buying out items such as hand sanitizers and face masks to help protect against the new coronavirus known as COVID-19. Kim Champion/NewmarketToday

From light-hearted jokes about the stockpiling of toilet paper to expressions of shock about the never-before-seen lockdown of Italy due to the outbreak of the new coronavirus known as COVID-19, interest and concern over the emerging disease is high among Newmarket residents.

A Newmarket mom of two daughters has been closely monitoring the world and local health situation with respect to the virus, and was not overly concerned with making changes in her family’s daily routine, with the exception of encouraging her children to wash their hands more often and not share snacks at school.

“I was watching reports of people stockpiling items and, in the beginning, I thought it was completely ridiculous and unnecessary,” Tasha Milleman said. “That was until this past weekend.”

Milleman works at a large home improvement retailer and has been paying attention to its shelves and the automatically generated purchase orders for a variety of household products.

Just south at a Walmart in Vaughan, a pharmacy worker said it could be weeks or months before certain backordered products come in that people “have been going crazy for because they are scared,” including hand sanitizers, face masks, alcohol and alcohol swabs.

“It looks like we may have a bit of a shortage in the future and so I have picked up a few extra things to store such as toilet paper, paper towel, some cleaning products, water, and even canned and non-perishables, and frozen foods,” Milleman said.

“My concern is that stores may run out of stock and also that there may come a time when my family may not be able to leave our home for an extended period of time, whether it be due to our own personal choice or if the province declares some type of state-of-emergency and we are forced to stay in our homes,” she added. “It is also possible there will come a time when businesses will remain closed and therefore many products will be inaccessible to the public for purchase.”

On a personal level, Milleman was forced to cancel her daughter’s 10th birthday party and sleepover planned for the end of March because nearly all of the parents who had earlier sent RSVPs that their children would attend have pulled back due to concern over COVID-19.

The party had included a trip to an indoor entertainment complex, with pizza, ice cream and birthday cake, and a sleepover of movies and arts and crafts.

“So, it's not just public spaces that people are nervous about, they're nervous about going into private dwellings, as well,” Milleman said. “And these are all people who I know quite well personally and who know that no one in our family has travelled outside of the country within the last eight months. As a parent, I can't say that I blame any of them and I am inclined to agree with them. If I was in the same position, at this point, I can guarantee I would not be allowing my child to go either.”

Conflicting information and a perceived lack of trust in the public health system and politicians charged with managing the situation is leaving a sense of confusion in its wake for what the future may hold, she said.

Conversely, several residents told NewmarketToday that their day-to-day lives are largely unaffected by the emergence of the virus, which has so far seen seven York Region residents confirmed positive due to travel to affected countries, including Iran and Egypt.

“I continue to go out. Basically, I’m playing it day-by-day, which includes washing my hands and using anti-bacterial wipes on a regular basis,” said longtime Newmarket resident Nancy Fish. “I don’t want to go full-panic mode yet.”

Fish said she commuted daily to Toronto on public transit during the 2002 and 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and survived.

“So, here’s hoping,” she said. “If we are advised by our local medical authorities to change our normal activities, I will comply.”

Likewise, Newmarket resident Darryl Wolk hasn’t made any major changes in his personal or professional habits. What concerns him most about COVID-19 is its potential impact on the economy.

“I went to Las Vegas two weeks ago, and I was a bit worried at the airport and on the airplane but did not want to cancel my trip,” Wolk said, who commutes into Toronto each day on the GO train, and appreciates the cleaning and disinfecting Metrolinx has recently undertaken after it was notified a Richmond Hill woman who tested positive for the virus travelled on one of its buses.

Wolk has also attended several large meetings in recent days, and notes that people are careful to wash their hands, refrain from shaking hands, hugging or making unnecessary physical contact. 

“If I had tickets to the Leafs or Raptors, I would still attend,” said the sports fan. “The health concerns are real and, hopefully, the virus will pass, markets will recover, and we will get out of this situation with minimal damage to people's lives over the long-term.”

Longtime Newmarket resident Dianne Wood said she, too, isn’t altering her normal existence. She and her husband went out to a local Chinese food restaurant for dinner last Thursday, although she notes diners were sparse in the large room.

“I have friends who have been cancelling trips at March break, and for the summer,” said Wood. “One family was going to Italy in the summer and they cancelled. The Roman Catholic churches in Rome have all stopped having Mass until April 3 when they will re-evaluate. I’ve never heard of that happening.”

York Region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Karim Kurji, on March 6 cautioned local religious and community leaders to mitigate the risks associated with large-scale celebrations such as the upcoming Persian and Baha’i new years, Easter, Passover, and others.

Kurji noted that given the strained resources in the health-care system, public health investigators may not be able to handle following up with contacts and case investigations of very large numbers of individuals.

“That would be a great strain on our resources, a strain on laboratory resources as far as testing goes, and also a large number of members of congregations may well have to go into self-isolation depending on what follows,” he said.

“Activities like singing, when an infectious individual sings, the droplets may go way beyond the immediate vicinity of that individual. Are you sharing food? If a sick person coughs on a buffet, it is possible that we may have a problem,” said Kurji.

Meanwhile, the Newmarket-Aurora NDP provincial riding association has cancelled its planned March 12 Pints & Politics event, set to be held at Fionn MacCool’s on Leslie Street in Newmarket out of “an abundance of caution”.

Riding president Jon Aston told NewmarketToday that while the group acknowledges the risk of community transmission remains low, it has decided to wait and see how things play out in the coming days and weeks.

“We’re very concerned with the present strain on hospitals, and by the Ontario government’s response to the crisis,” Aston said. “We’d like to see public health cuts reversed immediately, and paid sick days for the millions of Ontarian workers who cannot afford to stay home when they’re sick.”

The local public health unit urges residents to help break the chain of transmission of the disease and protect themselves and others with thorough hand-washing, sneeze and cough into your sleeve, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, avoid contact with people who are sick, and stay home if you are sick.

For York Region resident and retired communications director Eric Fagen, who is currently vacationing in Florida with his wife, Fran, where that state has so far reported 20 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, day-to-day business includes mindfulness about health.

“My wife and I are not curtailing our outings, but we are mindful of our social distance, sanitizing carts and other items when in certain public areas and washing our hands frequently,” Fagen said from the United States Monday. “Also, I called my pharmacist this morning to find out if I will have any trouble filling my prescriptions when I return to Ontario the first week in April. I have been told that there are medications on backorder and that in the event that one of my medications is not available, the pharmacy will fax my doctor to have him prescribe an alternate medication, if available.”  

Also, given the downturn in the markets, the Fagens said they have delayed the purchase of any major items that are discretionary.

The couple took a cruise just before the U.S. had confirmed its first COVID-19 cases, but now, they say they would most certainly have cancelled any such trip.

According to a recent AbacusData poll on coronavirus, 14 million Canadians say they are handwashing more, and four million are stocking up on supplies. 

NewmarketToday asked our Facebook followers if they are changing their habits or plans, including washing their hands more, wearing a mask, refusing to shake hands, working from home or avoiding crowded places since the emergence of COVID-19.

The responses generally show a mix of extra precaution with pushback on what some see as “hysteria and hype”.

“I don’t recall any worldwide hysteria with the SARS virus,” said Debbie Jamieson. “Countries did not go into lockdown, major events weren’t cancelled, etc. Now with the COVID-19, there is mass hysteria around the world. Sorry, I can’t help but wonder if this virus is more worrisome than everyone is saying?”

Similarly, Linda McKinnon Borden said she is not worried, but feels the hysteria is “getting out of hand”.

“I tried to get some toilet tissue today, not to hoard or anything, just because I need it. Nowhere to be found,” she said.

David Young said he always has a few week’s worth of food and supplies on hand, but is replacing handshakes with fist-bumps since the coronavirus has emerged.

Other readers said common sense prevails with the coronavirus, the same as their approach to cold and flu season.

“Flu shots. Always hand-washing. Blow kisses, wave, smile,” said Judy St.-Cyr. “Not stockpiling sanitizer, which is needed more at nursing homes and hospitals. Visiting by phone anyone who is dealing with a compromised immune system. I’m over 60 with an auto-immune disease, so I’m wiping down door handles and countertops more.”

Likewise, Kostik Jfr. said he’s not wearing a mask, but is washing his hands more. 

“Got some supplies, no panic, just in case,” he said. “Monitoring the situation in the news, but not specifically checking websites, more like reading my news feed. I’m not working from home yet because of the virus, but the workplace does have a plan for remote working if required.”

Longtime Newmarket resident and mental health worker Jill Kellie said she is still out and about, but is washing her hands for longer and carrying hand sanitizer.

“I’m carrying on with usual travel plans stateside. Saddened and surprised by the hoarders,” Kellie added.

Reader Carmela Rochella, who said she falls into a higher risk category due to a compromised immune system, is being extra cautious in light of coronavirus.

Several commenters said they will continue with travel plans.

Kathy Whewell is leaving in a few days for a much anticipated first trip to England, where she plans to meet family with whom she has connected on Ancestry.

"Unfortunately, there will be no hugging with family. That’s the sad part! A bit nervous and concerned as we are in our 60s, but we have had all our necessary shots. Hope England will greet us with open arms!" said Whewell.

“Still travelling, my kids are vaccinated, we wash our hands everyday as always, not extra,” said Satyne Shier Ward. “Damn, I think we are almost out of toilet paper actually. I asked my doctor today and she said just keep doing what you always have been doing if you’ve been healthy.”

“I still go shopping. I still eat out. I still live,” she said. “When I get a cold, I take cold meds and warm bed, and my kids all still attend sports, they are healthy and thriving!! The only thing we have changed is watching and paying LESS attention to media hype!!”

Visit or for more information. If you have additional questions, please contact Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653.

You may also contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 for medical advice. Telehealth Ontario is a free confidential service you can call to receive health advice or information. A registered nurse will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Kim Champion

About the Author: Kim Champion

Kim Champion is a veteran journalist and editor who covers Newmarket and issues that impact York Region.
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