The Question Period portion of Elliot Lake City Council meetings has been abbreviated or sometimes omitted during the long period of virtual meetings held during COVID-19.
On Monday night; however, council received an update on services available for Elliot Lake residents who need a grocery shopping service during the pandemic, and later entertained pre-submitted questions after the debate.
There was also a discussion about the big increase in the number of COVID cases in Elliot Lake.
"I try not to scare people but at the same time leaving a little fear helps," Mayor Dan Marchisella said. "Knowing that the PCR tests are very, very limited, currently as of today, for Elliot Lake area we have at least 100 active cases."
"I've been told we can have at least quadruple that number because of unknown cases in the area and the testing is not that accurate."
Later in the meeting council entertained written questions and comments submitted by two people.
One of them, Elliot Lake resident Mike Thomas, had a number of queries.
In response to criticism in the media that the city's Age Friendly Delivers program competes with local businesses, Thomas asked, "I would like to know if council intends to address the complaint directly ... clarify that this service provides purchase, delivery, payment of local products that are essential to the majority of citizens of Elliot Lake?"
Mayor Marchisella said that question was answered earlier in the meeting during the COVID-19 update. The mayor explained Age Friendly Delivers was created to look after people over 70, not to compete with commercial operators who charge for food and grocery delivery.
Thomas also asked several questions relating to council's resolution last month cancelling all non-essential programs in Elliot Lake municipal facilities.
"This weekend the ski hill was packed. There were trailers and mobile homes in the parking lot," he wrote. "There were lift chairs with several people on them at a time. People were milling about and not social distancing."
He wanted to know how this was in compliance with provincial orders and with the municipal resolution.
Thomas noted other ski hills in the province are now closed as a result of the omicron wave.
Economic Development Manager Steve Antunes said Mt. Dufour Ski Hill is following the snow and ski board guidelines as laid down by their association.
"Mt. Dufour's lodge has a capacity of 175 people and they're well under that capacity. They have not been offering lessons this past weekend," Antunes said. "Mt. Dufour is one of the ski hills in the province of Ontario that is requiring proof of double vaccination to ski outdoors, which is not required at other ski hills."
Antunes said the campers and trailers on-site were being used as warming stations and for restroom facilities by those who brought them.
Thomas also observed that mask mandates are not being followed in Elliot Lake's grocery stores, that sanitation practices there are not being followed.
"Will the city pass a resolution and by-law that all businesses in Elliot Lake follow the guidelines?"
Mayor Marchisella said, "It's very important for us to reassure people that this is not a local issue. The folks that are in the community are doing the best that they can."
Finally, Thomas asked if it would be prudent for the city to work with health care providers to expand access to virtual and walk-in clinics. That was in light of short staffing at Elliot Lake's St. Joseph's General Hospital, especially emergency.
"To relieve the burden as announced by our hospital and FHT (Family Health Team) brought on by COVID-19 and exacerbated by the emergence of the omicron variant?" Thomas wondered.
Mayor Marchisella said that the situation is the same across the province.
"The city would like to do whatever we can but realistically it's a huge stress on the healthcare system," he said.
"There's a massive shortage of health care practitioners. We are losing practitioners to fatigue and to sickness. Our whole planet is maxed out right now and it's an unfortunate situation."