Viral head-scratching ensued Monday as news circulated about Downtown North Bay’s Christmas Walk being cancelled for the second year running due to COVID-19 concerns.
The immediate reaction ranged between perplexed and fed up with decisions that don’t match perceptible reality.
Last year, the decision made a bit more sense despite it being outdoors and the majority of local residents already embracing health protocols (family bubbles, masks, and no-touch greetings, etc.)
You will recall that Ontario was facing at the time a growing second wave with new daily cases topping 1,000 people on Nov. 2, 2020. By Christmas, daily infections in the province were double that number and the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit eventually outlawed toboggan hills, snowmobile trails, and outdoor rinks.
The pitchforks were out and I’m positive there was a social media meme mocking Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jim Chirico depicted as the Grinch That Stole Christmas.
There was hope this winter would be different after a scary third wave in the spring led to a high vaccination uptake. In mid-April, for example, there were more than 4,000 new cases each day and political parties howled about vaccine rollout scheduling.
Ontario and Canada as a whole boasted a solid 73 per cent of residents receiving two doses. And North Bay district is pulling more than its weight with more than 80 per cent of residents double jabbed.
While the high transmissibility of the Delta variant – which includes vaccine breakthroughs – fuelled dire predictions of an overwhelming fourth wave this fall, the stats show a flattened curve that peaked last week.
Capacity limits for indoor settings are being lifted a bit more each week and the Battalion are once again hearing the cheers of more than 2,000 OHL fans at Memorial Gardens.
Even the school boards are bracing their wobbly spines enough to allow parents to attend outdoor sporting events before the football season ends.
So why cancel a much-desired Christmas event that is held outside in a downtown that could use some positive energy?
There are only nine active cases as of Monday and one person hospitalized, not counting the one COVID over-flow patient to be flown in from Saskatchewan.
Fears of the North Bay Regional Health Centre being severely understaffed were abated. There are only 10 people so far leaving hospital employ over the ultimatum they must be vaccinated or tested weekly.
The Downtown North Bay organizers said they want to act in a responsible manner by not holding an event that would invite large numbers of people together. In the past, as many as 15,000 would take part.
I don’t have all the information that informed their decision. It could involve fear of liability and daunting protocols or genuine worry about the health of others.
Perhaps it was the businesses themselves who couldn’t manage the large burden of vetting customers for vaccination status.
It would be good to drill down a bit on the decision to help residents understand the complexity of the situation.
In the meantime, I wonder if there’s anything stopping groups and organizations from wrapping together a pile of smaller-scale events themselves?
I’m probably more of a Scrooge than Dr. Chirico when it comes to all things Christmas. Can’t stand the duplicity and materialism.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful to have students and seniors caroling by candlelight together in the Jack Burrows Civic Square?
I realize there will be a tree-lighting thing on Nov. 18 but that won’t cut it for a lot of people.
Big gatherings might be unwieldy but a half-dozen smaller pop-up events can add up to a whole lot of spirit.
I can see the TikTok outtakes getting tons of clicks and a collage of cute might just infect those at the top looking for the courage or will to lead us back to living.
Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses related to his work can be sent to [email protected]. To contact the writer directly, email: [email protected] or check out his website www.smalltowntimes.ca