I was in town last week to do groceries and pick up a few essential things I left at the office before all of this began when I saw a sight that, according to local social media reports, has become all too common: a group of people walking down an otherwise deserted Main Street while not practicing social distancing.
I struggle with writing that because even a month ago the idea that people walking down the street would somehow amount to a controversy was pretty much unfathomable, I think to all of us (the Roi Theatre’s sign really does encapsulate the whole stranger than fiction vibe I’ve been feeling lately).
In any event, as I drove past this group (I don’t want to say they were kids or adults, I honestly can’t remember) I considered opening my window and yelling something in a half-playful, half-serious tone like “hey, two metres” or “get back into quarantine.” In the end, I just drove on by.
Last week, the Province unveiled a number of new measures aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Among them are a number of truly unprecedented powers for municipal bylaw officers. While they won’t be able to detain or fine individuals breaking provincial orders (such as a ban on any gatherings larger than 50 people) what they will be able to do is issue warnings and gather evidence on violations to provide to their local health officials.
Now, it’s unclear how this is all going to tie in to people who are simply not following social distancing guidelines. For example, a group of people walking nearly side by side as opposed to the two or more metres of space the Province is asking people to give each other. And I’m definitely not suggesting we start throwing people in jail for walking too close to each other on their evening strolls (although that does sound like the first act of a pretty good Black Mirror episode).
There needs to be a middle ground, and having bylaw officers around Main Street to remind people about the social distancing rules and create a bit of a presence in the downtown core would certainly go a long way in paving that real estate.
To go back to my example with the group I saw last week, I think it’s also important to mention that we shouldn’t just be pawning off all the responsibility of enforcing social distancing to public officials. Again, not suggesting you take the law into your own hands — but simply reminding each other about the rule can be helpful.
Again, it’s all about the tone and the intention. For example, I’ve definitely seen some people who are just going out of their way to be rude and “over-enforcing” the social distancing rule. You don’t need to yell at someone whose only crime is taking slightly too long to decide what kind of brownie mix to buy to get out of your way as you barge down the middle of the No Frills aisle at 12 kilometres an hour. There have also been a few times I’ve caught myself too close to someone and quickly stepped back, and I definitely wouldn’t take offence to someone reminding me about the rule.
That’s why we need bylaw officers patrolling the downtown core in Smithers, and frankly in any community big enough to have one employed, to ensure that people are respecting the provincial orders on social distancing. Now that the Province has set up the framework and given bylaw officers the power, there is no excuse not to.
The Town has done an excellent job in conveying the new rules being put in place provincially and federally, but it’s time to step it up and get actual boots on the ground to help change people’s habits from a bottom-up approach.
I believe we can do it, we just have to go the (two metre) distance.
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