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Dec. 2, 2020 | Wednesday
Local News
COVID-19: Town adding portable toilets for Old Town visitors
Droves of tourists lined up to use the washrooms in Old Town on Saturday, despite the pandemic. (Richard Harley)

The long weekend drew the large crowds to Niagara-on-the-Lake, despite continued advocation from the province to stay home except for essential trips.

Behind the courthouse on Market Street, people lined up around the corner on King Street to use the town’s newly reopened bathrooms. At Queen’s Royal Park, the line in the parking lot reached the road.

The town is adding several portable washrooms starting this weekend.

“We opened washrooms on Friday to little attendance, but as we all know Saturday was a beautiful day and the washrooms started to get really busy,” the town’s director of operations Kevin Turcotte said in an interview.

The washrooms were cleaned every hour, in accordance with recommendations from Niagara public health, and lines showed people where to stand to social distance, he said.

“Overall,  I think we did OK. There was a lot of people, but I think we handled it the best we can in the current situation.”

He said the biggest challenge was “definitely the number of people” — especially on Market Street.

“Some were wrapped around the building, almost around to Balzac’s, so that caused a little bit of problems with general traffic on the sidewalks.”

He said the town will work to improve management of the washrooms and anticipates even more visitors this weekend.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said the town is going to “step things up” to shorten the lines and will install portable washrooms at both locations, as well as hire additional staff to manage them.

“We’re looking at getting a couple of portapotties at each location. I think four down at Queen’s Royal, along with the washrooms, and two at the courthouse.”

She said the town is not going to open the washrooms at Simcoe Park, because they require more staff to manage them properly.

“And we don’t want to do that if we don’t have to,” she said.

Bylaw enforcement officers also had a busy weekend managing the crowds.

Acting senior enforcement officer Henry Boese said people for the most part were being respectful to bylaw officers and mindful of social distancing measures.

“We saw a lot of compliance, which was good, and that’s what we’re striving for every time,” Boese said.

However, a quick walk down Queen Street makes it obvious that the sheer number of visitors versus the size of the sidewalks is not conducive to social distancing. While others waited in line, people passed by within a foot from each other.

Boese said the focus of bylaw enforcement is on education, not fining. He said “maybe” two tickets were handed out during the long weekend, for trespassing, not breaching emergency orders.

The biggest challenge with that has been the sheer number of people coming from the GTA and other places outside NOTL, he said.

Disero said the town can’t stop visitors. “They’re going to come.”

She urged residents, for their own safety, to take “special precaution” not to go into crowded areas during busy days in town.

“On the weekends, when there’s a lot of people here, it’s even more important now to try and protect yourself. Stay at home when you can on the weekends when we’ve got a lot of crowds. And if you have to go for a walk, walk in areas that are not high-traffic areas.”

Saturday along Queen Street, people were elbow to elbow, and it didn’t look like we are in the midst of a pandemic.

Geoffrey Thomas, a NOTL resident who was taking a physiotherapy walk after a March hip replacement, said the number of tourists concerns him.

“Look at this, it’s August crazy down here,” Thomas said. “It’s ridiculous right now.”

He said he thinks people are being selfish.

“People only care about themselves, honestly,” he said. “This line, ‘We’re all in the same boat’ — we’re not all in the same boat. We’re all in different boats in a very nasty storm right now, is what we are. So your storm is going to ride out differently than mine.”

He said he’d like to see people taking prevention of a second wave of the virus more seriously.

“Everybody’s gotta kinda get on board in the sense of ‘OK, we need to do this to quell this stuff so we don’t get a second outbreak,’” Thomas said.

“I mean, Spanish Flu taught us nothing? Has history taught us nothing at all? No, it hasn’t because we keep repeating everything we’ve done before. What did Einstein say? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. And people are doing the same thing and we’re going to get the same results.”

While some people are respecting distancing, he said it’s not a good idea to be out in a crowded town.

“It is insane to subject yourself purposely when it’s still a good possibility that it could be another outbreak,” he said.

“Some people are respecting other people, but then again people are people. They’re like ‘oh, shiny’ — like goldfish, they get distracted and they forget.”

As positive as it is to see life on the street, it’s worrying that people don’t seem to be taking emergency orders seriously.

“It is nice to see people again, but so much at one time is just, I don’t know, it worries me. But then again natural selection comes in a lot of different ways, so maybe this is part of thinning the herd.”

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