It has been quite a remarkable and newsworthy few years for two of North Bay's Chirico brothers who, with their recent actions, now appear ready to usher the citizens of North Bay and surrounding districts into the post-pandemic era.
At critical points of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Jim Chirico and his policies became a daily conversation piece as the medical officer of health for the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit and his team worked to protect the health of locals against the unknown.
See related: Unanimous support for Dr. Chirico by Board of Health
The organization announced it is ready to ramp down the social media component of its public health campaign on all matters pandemic. The work will continue behind the scenes but as the pandemic enters its fourth spring since the panic of March 2020, the Health Unit will cease to report its COVID-19 data publicly.
This will be the last of our weekly #COVID19 updates. Thank you for reading and responding to our pandemic posts over the past 2-3 yrs, and for your ongoing interest in COVID-19 in our district. Our dashboard will continue to be updated, so you can still stay up-to-date! https://t.co/2BpiRD4yCW— North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit (@NBPSDHealthUnit) March 22, 2023
"As our COVID-19 situation has remained stable for quite some time, we have decided to sunset the weekly social media COVID-19 update, however, the COVID-19 Status Report dashboard, on our website, continues to be updated weekly on Wednesdays at 3 p.m.", Dr. Chirico tells BayToday. "Should our COVID-19 situation change at any point where there is an increased risk to the public, we will be sure to communicate this through media and social media."
Peter Chirico began the pandemic as the public face of the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce, supporting business interests and the movement to "shop local." He has since been elected as North Bay's mayor.
Months into this council's term, Mayor Chirico has now led pushes to suspend the COVID-19 employee vaccination policies of two separate entities. Neither of those vaccination policies — of the City of North Bay and the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board — were put in place by the council of the day and Mayor Chirico has been taking action to end them. Both policies, it should be noted, were developed in concert with the local Health Unit and Dr. Chirico.
In late February, following an in-camera council session, the City of North Bay suspended its COVID-19 employee vaccination policy.
Then, on March 22, Mayor Chirico, in his role as a DNSSAB Board director sought to suspend the rules and suspend the DNSSAB policy immediately instead of waiting one month until the next board meeting. He explained it was just a timing thing that the City removed its policy just after DNSSAB continued its own in February as he had to leave one of those meetings early before it could be discussed.
"Now that things are — hopefully — starting to return to normal forever, I'm wondering if the Board would consider having staff come back with something prior to [the next meeting on] April 26.
Later, Mayor Chirico pressed on, asking, "Is there an opportunity to have that rescinded today? A suspension of our present by-laws to bring that motion and pass it today. I'm wondering if the Board would entertain that."
With input from DNSSAB CAO Catherine Matheson, it was determined it would be prudent to take some time time to consult with various departments on how best to accomplish the policy they had kept in place just one month earlier. The DNSSAB policy covers paramedics who deliver in-house care so there are more complexities at play, explained Matheson.
Mayor Chirico relented on his request to make the move immediately but, judging by the dialogue surrounding the pending motion, the policy will be suspended if it continues to have the same level of support during the April meeting.
As far as the Health Unit's reduced COVID-19 social media presence, the move is in keeping with the Health Unit gradually easing away from the frenetic exchange of data it produced at the height of the pandemic.
In March 2022, Dr. Chirico announced such a policy shift: "We'll be transitioning away from these scheduled press conferences but this is not 'goodbye.' The Health Unit and I will still be available to answer any COVID-19 inquiries.
"We're almost at the light at the end of the tunnel, so let's continue to work together to see this through."
Signs of the waning pandemic response abound.
For example, Ontario long-term care homes with COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination requirements are "encouraged to revisit their policies and consider allowing visitors and qualified staff, regardless of their vaccination status," effective March 31, in the first phase of realigning measures from the Ministry of Long-Term Care, in concert with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore.
And, Ontario's paid COVID-19 sick days program expires on March 31. The program, which amended the provincial Employment Standards Act (ESA) in April 2021, required employers to provide eligible workers with up to three days of paid time off for reasons related to COVID-19.
According to the World Health Organization's most recent weekly epidemiological report, released March 30, there were nearly 3.6 million new cases and over 25,000 deaths reported worldwide in the 28 days covering February 27 to March 26, a decrease of 27 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively, compared to the previous 28 days.
"Despite this overall downward trend, it is important to note that several countries have recently reported significant increases in cases. As of March 26, over 761 million confirmed cases and over 6.8 million deaths have been reported globally," the report states.