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Pandemic claims traditional Beach Day

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Add Beach Day to the long list of events cancelled in Norfolk County due to the COVID-19 pandemic alert.

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The coronavirus accomplished what parents, police, bad weather and education authorities have been unable to achieve over the past several decades – preventing area teenagers from crowding the beaches of Norfolk on the first Friday in June.

This spring was different because the beaches of Norfolk are closed and barricaded.

On Friday, they also were patrolled by Norfolk OPP, Ontario Parks wardens and county bylaw officers to ensure no one was violating social distancing rules. With a hot sun beating down after lunch, there were no parties to be had on the Walker Street beach in Port Dover or at the popular bathing beach in Turkey Point.

“The OPP is currently working in partnership with our park wardens and our Norfolk County bylaw partners and would like to remind everyone that all beaches in Norfolk County are closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Norfolk OPP Const. Ed Sanchuk said Friday in a news release.

“People are reminded not to attend these closed areas for everyone’s safety. Officers — along with bylaw officers and park wardens — will be patrolling the beaches for the day and are asking everyone to abide by the Section 22 order under the Heath Protection and Promotion Act as well as the Emergency Management Civil Protection Act of no gatherings larger than five unrelated people.”

Norfolk has demonstrated in recent weeks that it means business when it comes to enforcing health orders at the waterfront and elsewhere. The county recently doubled the size of its bylaw division and has hired retired OPP staff sergeant Jim Millson of Simcoe to co-ordinate its bylaw efforts in the field.

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Norfolk also has doubled the hours per week that bylaw officers are available to enforce health orders related to COVID-19.

The county wants to avoid a repeat of what occurred a couple weekends ago in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto. There, thousands took advantage of the nice weather to congregate in a downtown green space. Authorities were horrified they were witnessing a potential “super-spreader event” unfold in real time.

Social distancing rules in Ontario require individuals to maintain a space between them of at least two metres to prevent the highly contagious, potentially fatal respiratory illness from spreading.

Beach Day is a long-standing tradition that often attracts thousands of high school students from Norfolk and south-central Ontario in general.

The event is a case study in mass truancy. While parents and authorities plead with teenagers to remain focused on their studies, the lure of the waterfront usually wins out.

There is frequently an energetic debate in Norfolk at this time of the year regarding the pros and cons of Beach Day. Many students say their parents know they are truant but encourage them to have fun anyway as a Norfolk County rite-of-passage for young people.

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