Cornwall mayor stands by Facebook coronavirus response

Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement (right) listens as Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis speaks during a news conference on Friday, Feb.21, 2020. Clement stands by her use of Facebook to notify the public about the Nav Center quarantine news. People not plugged into social media didn't get any word until Monday afternoon, roughly two days after the Global Affairs Canada announcement. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – Mayor Bernadette Clement, who prides herself on dialogue and information sharing, was asked Friday about the delay in notifying Cornwall’s population through official city channels about the Nav Center quarantine situation.

While people plugged into Facebook knew within hours what was happening, it was nearly two days before residents not on social media were given an update on the city or the mayor’s position.

The mayor, on learning word late Saturday night (Feb. 15) about Global Affairs Canada’s 7 p.m. announcement that Nav Center would be used as a quarantine site, posted a Facebook video update at 4 a.m. Sunday (Feb. 16) and then again at 2 a.m. Monday (Feb. 17).

The second video came after the mayor and city administration had met with government officials at Nav Center and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis toured the facility.

But any official word through City of Cornwall channels didn’t happen until 2 p.m. Monday – almost two days after the Global Affairs Canada notice.

“I decided to respond to the day in age that we live, which is 2020, immediate information, and I used my Facebook page, the mayor page, to tell people where I was at, that I had spoken to Dr. Paul (Roumeliotis),” Clement said during a news conference Friday.

Clement disagrees that it’s a “personal” Facebook page, even though the description on the page where the videos are posted says it’s the “personal page of the Mayor of the City of Cornwall” and that it doesn’t reflect the views of the Corporation of the City of Cornwall. The page was also used for the municipal election.

The mayor added that it was a long weekend “and a lot of city resources were legitimately enjoying time with their families. Emma Meldrum is our public information coordinator and was a superstar this entire time. This person was at my side the entire time. I texted her at midnight that night (Saturday) after speaking to Dr. Paul,” she said.

“It’s easier for me and quicker for me to get on my Facebook and I will continue to do that by the way, there’s no apologies there. That is my page and I will go and speak to people as quickly as I can.”

The mayor added that “there wasn’t any information to put out” until the Monday afternoon news release from the corporation. She added that a press release “moves at a different pace” than social media, especially on a holiday weekend.

“I just wanted to reassure people that I had information as the mayor, but in terms of actual information…we were waiting to catch up.”

When asked about members of the public, not on social media, not knowing for a day-and-a-half, Clement said she would have given media interviews to get the word out.

“I’m never going to shy away from a media inquiry. I used Facebook because it was the quickest but I would have given interviews had I had a chance,” she said.

“We really were not sitting on information and we will use whatever channel we can. But it was a long weekend and we were caught without notice.”

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