When I declared a State of Emergency for the City of Burlington due to COVID-19 exactly one year ago today, no one could have predicted the year that was to come — or the journey that is still ahead of us.
The pandemic has been both the hardest year, and one of the most inspiring, to see the true resiliency of our community and how we have all come together in new ways.
Though we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same vessel working to weather it. For some residents, the pandemic has been truly devastating and heartbreaking. People have lost jobs, businesses, loved ones; they have also been deprived of celebrating key moments in life, struggled through mourning, and had restrictions on many aspects of life.
We have lost 49 Burlingtonians because of COVID-19 — 200 across Halton.
Today (March 21), we lower our flags and issue a proclamation to honour and in memory of our family members, friends, loved ones, neighbours and colleagues. They will also be honoured during our second annual In Memoriam Day on March 25, dedicated to all Burlington residents who died in 2020.
The mental health toll, as well as the social and economic toll, has been staggering over the past year. Burlington City Council has tried to take all these aspects into account in our decisions, including the many changes needed to deliver City services safety and differently over the past year. From Day 1 of the emergency, Burlington Council and our City staff team have fully embraced an unequivocal goal — to do everything possible to protect the community against the spread of COVID-19.
We have also seen our community come together, forging new partnerships and relationships that will last long after the pandemic subsides.
The Burlington Together Facebook page that was formed to connect residents in need of support and those willing and able to help, as well as to share resources, now has more than 12,000 members. Our churches, and faith-based and community groups found news ways to continue supporting the vulnerable people in our community.
Frontline Clap Burlington was formed as a way to bring us together to show our immense support and appreciation for our frontline workers and first responders for their daily sacrifices in maintaining our safety and health.
Partnership has been the key word throughout all of this.
Early in the pandemic, I launched the COVID-19 Task Force with community leaders from various sectors across the city, including health, social services, business and more. One of our first initiatives was to compile resources related to mental health supports, as well as for businesses and the community, at Burlington.ca/coronavirus.
Our Team Burlington partners — the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, Burlington Downtown Business Association, Aldershot Village BIA, Burlington Economic Development and Tourism Burlington — formed the Burlington Economic Recovery Network (BERN) with participation from my office and council to support businesses and plan for a post-pandemic recovery.
They have delivered grant programs for personal protection equipment (PPE) supplies, going digital and more. They have spearheaded resolutions at City and Regional Councils on asking the Province for fairness for small businesses, capacity limits based on size of venue, funding extensions, rent support, paid sick leave and more.
We all learned to adapt. We learned Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx and other virtual meeting platforms and mastered the art of coming “off mute” to stay connected with colleagues, family, and friends while staying safely apart.
Some juggled multiple jobs — their own and helping their school-age kids with at-home learning online.
We realized even more so how much additional broadband we all needed (particularly our rural communities), and our advocacy for broadband access for our community went to the front of the line with results: additional funding at upper levels of government and more companies applying to serve our residents.
We learned how to be tourists in our own town, rediscovering Burlington’s and Halton’s parks, beaches, conservation areas, and embracing the outside even during the winter. We kept our beverages cold and ourselves warm with winter patio dining!
Many residents put their time at home to good use, finally getting around to those repair and renovation projects, leading to a 10-fold increase in permit requests and applications at City Hall. We don’t expect this trend to wane any time soon!
Our charitable organizations also found news ways to raise money to support the people that rely on them through virtual galas with delivered/picked-up catered meals and gift bags, drive-through food drop-offs, and community initiatives — such as Christmas lights and decor, music from the driveway, and more.
Your Burlington City Council has been working overtime to keep the business of the City going, while responding to new needs in our community due to the pandemic. Council has hosted virtual town halls, food drives, socially-distanced drop-ins in the park, checked in on businesses and residents who needed assistance, served on the COVID-19 Task Force and BERN, and much more.
We barely skipped a beat when the pandemic hit, moving committee and council meetings online and pioneering virtual delegations and virtual public meetings to ensure continued transparency, accountability and participation by residents in City matters.
I added an extra council meeting each month to ensure council involvement in pandemic decision-making and the ability to quickly adapt and act on issues as they arose. We receive monthly financial and community service reports from City staff to respond and pivot as needed to serve you.
We recognize the financial, social and mental health impact the prolonged pandemic has had on our community, and responded to help with a variety of initiatives including:
- extended time to pay property taxes, and relief from penalty and interest that would normally accrue – this has been extended into 2021;
- $246,000 in funding to local businesses for PPE and supplies to keep their customers and staff safe;
- free transit early in the pandemic to ensure safety of residents and drivers, until safety measures could be installed;
- a mental health supports database, as well as social service supports, volunteer opportunities, funding supports for residents and businesses and more on our COVID-19 resource page at Burlington.ca/coronavirus;
- free parking downtown for a period of time, and ongoing 90 minutes free currently;
- online recreation programming and enhanced TelePals programs to connect isolated seniors; and
- advocacy to the Province for municipal funding, support for businesses, reopening when health indicators warranted, fairness in capacity limits, and more — all of which have borne results.
Council has also worked very closely with our federal MPs and provincial MPPs, and other mayors across the province through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), Ontario’s Big City Mayors (OBCM), and through our council representatives on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). This partnership and collaboration — made stronger during the pandemic — will last well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
I also chair bi-weekly check-ins with the Halton’s Mayors and Regional Chair, and we’ve spoken with one voice on lockdown measures, reopening and more.
Through our Burlington Telephone Town Halls, I have heard directly from thousands of you and your feedback has informed our decisions.
CITY OF BURLINGTON STAFF
Our city staff have also gone above and beyond to serve you.
They’ve implemented a digital filing process for planning applications, added outdoor pickleball courts, increased winter maintenance in our parks (that have never been better used this time of year), added cleaning and social distancing measures to City Hall when we reopened to keep staff and customers safe, and transitioned many staff to work-from-home, so we could continue operating City services safely.
Many of our staff are working two roles: their regular jobs and managing the pandemic.
When the emergency was first declared on a Saturday, we came together for our first Emergency Control Group (ECG) meeting. It lasted 8 hours. The following one, the next day on Sunday, lasted another 8 hours, and we met daily after that for many months, adding a daily communications meeting I chair, to ensure you have timely information to make decisions to keep yourselves and your family safe.
The ECG now meets twice a week, and communications once per week, as we continue to share information about the pandemic, and the next step toward recovery.
I am deeply grateful to our City staff and Burlington Council for all these efforts and their commitment to service above and beyond during the pandemic.
• • • • •
We have come a long way, and better days are ahead.
The Region of Halton’s vaccination centres are open, with more locations to come, and beginning the staged administration of vaccines. We will continue strengthening our determination to see ourselves through the other side of this pandemic.
While we take today to collectively mourn the loss of those Burlington residents from COVID-19 and be mindful of the impact this pandemic has had — and continues to have — on all of us, please also take a moment to celebrate our community, our strength and resiliency for weathering this storm and planning for a strong future.
— Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward
PLEASE NOTE: To stay updated on what the City of Burlington is doing regarding COVID-19, please visit the dedicated pages burlington.ca/coronavirus (and subscribe) and bit.ly/mayormeedwardCOVID19updates, and our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page — bit.ly/COVID19BurlingtonFAQ that are updated as new information becomes available.
A consolidated page for information and updates on the work of the provincial Ministers’ COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force is available at bit.ly/COVIDVaccineUpdates.
Halton Region has also created a dedicated COVID-19 Vaccine webpage at halton.ca/covidvaccines for up to date information on the status of our COVID19 vaccination program.
A Burlington COVID-19 Task Force has been created to help support our community through this unprecedented emergency — updates will be provided at burlington.ca/COVID19taskforce.
To report an incident of non-compliance with provincial emergency orders, please contact the Halton Regional Police Service COVID-19 Hotline: 905-825-4722.
We’ve also created a dedicated page to feature the local organizations and businesses that have inspired us during the COVID-19 pandemic by taking action to support our community in new and creative ways — head to bit.ly/covidwallofinspiration.
HELPFUL RESOURCES & RELATED LINKS:
- Community questions and requests regarding City of Burlington services can be directed to Service Burlington by phone at 905-335-7777, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or online.
- Halton Region has created a Reopening Schools resource webpage for parents, students and teachers at halton.ca/covid19.
- For further COVID-19 information, including where to get tested, please visit Halton Region Public Health halton.ca/coronavirus
- Residents can stay informed at burlington.ca/coronavirus as well as on our social media channels: @cityburlington on Twitter and facebook.com/cityburlington
- Questions about the cancellation of Recreation programs can be directed to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-335-7738
- City of Burlington: www.burlington.ca/coronavirus
- Resources for Residents & Non-Profit Organizations: www.burlington.ca/covid19resources.
- Halton Region: www.halton.ca/coronavirus
- Government of Ontario: www.ontario.ca/coronavirus
- Provincial Emergency Orders: https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/200052
- Government of Canada: www.canada.ca/coronavirus
- World Health Organization: www.who.int
- Joseph Brant Hospital: josephbranthospital.ca/covid-19
- Team Burlington Business Supports: burlingtonchamber.com/team-burl-supporting-burl-business-during-covid-19/
- Burlington Food Bank: call 905-637-CARE (2273), or visit burlingtonfoodbank.ca
- Food for Life: call 905-635-1106 and press 7, or visit foodforlife.ca
- Canadian Mental Health Association – Halton Branch: call 289-291-5396, or visit halton.cmha.ca