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Henry on 2021: “Plenty” to look forward to

Durham Regional Chair John Henry

Durham Regional Chair John Henry says there’s “plenty” to look forward to heading into 2021.

Henry says he is “hopeful that 2021 will bring reason for optimism and recovery, after a long road in the face of COVID-19.”

“With the vaccine rollout on the horizon, we are very much looking forward to what 2021 will bring,” he adds.

However, Henry says that just as the end of the year is a time to be hopeful for the next, it is also a time to reflect on the year that was, noting last year was “one of the toughest” in the region’s history.

“Since I declared a state of emergency on March 24, COVID-19 has changed so many aspects of our daily lives,” he says, adding work continued for regional staff, with some work becoming “more important than ever” as some aspects of the work changed.

He says the region’s health department was an integral part of the COVID-19 response.

“From their guidance on best health practices and guidelines, to their contact tracing and case management, they have done remarkable work to help keep us as safe as possible,” Henry continues.

He adds the region’s COVID-19 data tracker – a platform accessed more than 1.1 million times in 2020 – helped residents stay up-to-date on the latest status of the virus in Durham.

According to Henry, the health department team conducted 2,379 investigations, handled 40,720 nursing assessments, and fielded 127,323 phone calls related to COVID-19.

Social Services staff partnered with local agencies to create the In and Out of the Crisis program at Camp Samac, where unsheltered residents were provided with a roof over their head, while maintaining their health and receiving the support they need.

Emergency child care was also offered to health care and frontline workers in Durham, providing ongoing support to early learning and child care centres to ensure health and safety, and long-term care staff continued to provide much needed care for senior residents in the face of COVID-19 outbreaks and hardship.

“Their dedication and support during this tumultuous time has been nothing short of heroic,” says Henry.

He notes the Planning, Economic Development and Tourism team also played an essential role in supporting the local economy.

“Since its creation, the Durham Economic Task Force has met regularly to develop and deploy initiatives in support of local businesses,” explains Henry, such as Downtowns of Durham, Shop in Durham Week, and the Shop Durham Region online marketplace.

The works department continued to provide consistent service to residents, including waste collection, water, road construction, and traffic safety, and Durham Region Transit continued its service, offering free rides during the initial spike of the crisis, and continually adapting its service model to best serve residents during the pandemic, with health and safety remaining a top priority.

“These are just a few examples of the tremendous efforts carried out by regional staff and local partners. To say I am proud of the work they have all done would be a huge understatement,” he says.

While COVID-19 was a major focus last year, Henry says there were also plenty of “bright spots” beyond the pandemic, such as General Motors announcing its aim to bring an estimated $1 billion to $1.3 billion investment and 1,400 to 1,700 jobs back to Oshawa, as well as 11 major Durham Region Transit projects currently underway with provincial and federal investment to modernize operations, such as the Bus Rapid Transit System which will connect Oshawa to Scarborough along Highway 2.

Henry says there were also some “very important developments” last year in identifying and addressing anti-Black racism, noting the Anti-Black Racism Town Hall the region hosted, as well as the Anti-Black Racism Town Hall and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Follow-Up report council approved in order to take steps towards addressing anti-Black racism, diversity and inclusion.

“I remain committed to ensuring our policies and programs are built on equity and opportunity.”

Guided by the 2020 to 2024 Durham Region Strategic Plan, Henry says the region is continuing to take steps to implement its vision of a better Durham, which he says wouldn’t be possible without the support of the community.

“Thank you for helping us get through 2020 and forge ahead to a better year in 2021,” says Henry, noting the commitment to listening to public health advice, resilience, and unyielding spirit has been an “inspiration.”

“From the decorated windows and sidewalks, to the messages of thanks and respect for our frontline heroes, thank you for exemplifying the values that make me proud to call Durham Region home.”