Library-going cottagers a concern in Powassan

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Reading the recorded minutes of a board or agency meeting can be pretty straight forward, unexciting and perhaps downright boring.

But every once in a while, those minutes produce a surprise, as Powassan Mayor Peter McIsaac learned.

Under new business in the library minutes of a recent meeting, McIsaac found a reference that the Powassan and District Union Library was providing space to residents usually from southern Ontario so they could access its Wi-Fi services.

The people in question approached the library around summertime and the minutes show they were living or visiting cottages in the area and doing their work from those cottages because of COVID-19.

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Furthermore, they needed internet access and they requested space at the library to carry out their work.

In return, they made a donation to the library.

McIsaac announced what he had learned at a council meeting last week.

“It caught me off guard that they’re doing that,” he admitted.

McIsaac is concerned the library “could become a possible place where (COVID-19) transmission could happen.”

The Nugget later spoke to McIsaac in more detail about his concern.

During the period the library was renting out space, the Doug Ford government had “pretty strict guidelines in place about people travelling from one jurisdiction to another,” McIsaac said.

The mayor noted that compared to Northern Ontario, parts of southern Ontario have been a hot zone with COVID-19 outbreaks.

Two days after the council meeting, McIsaac says the local emergency management group met to discuss the matter.

“We’re looking for more information from the library on it and we will have a further conversation once we get all the details we can possibly get.” he said.

McIsaac again expressed surprise during The Nugget interview that space was being rented to people from southern Ontario.

“I’m not too sure we should be encouraging this,” he said.

McIsaac couldn’t say how many people were renting the library space and using its Wi-Fi.

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“If it’s one or two people, it might minimize my concerns,” McIsaac said, adding he’s confident the number of people isn’t something like 20.

McIsaac says he drives by the library often and gauges activity in the building by noting how many vehicles are in the parking lot.

“There aren’t a lot of cars in the parking lot,” he said, although the mayor remains worried that “the risk of transmission with their travel is possible now.”

That’s because the cottagers are not isolating themselves and would be in the community to also buy food and supplies.

“I don’t think this is what we envisioned during COVID,” he said.

“It’s not best practice is a nice way to put it.”

McIsaac wants to stress he knows there was no intent on the library’s part to create a problem when it rented out the space.

“They probably did it because they thought they were helping someone out,” he said.

“It wasn’t done in malice. It was probably done because they were probably just trying to be cooperative to somebody and, at the same, time they could draw a little extra income for the library.”

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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