Rural health-care providers and small-town politicians are pleading with snowbirds and city-dwellers to stay at their primary homes during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than self-isolating in more remote locales and putting additional strain on a system that’s already stretched to the limit.

Doctors practising far away from large urban centres say they’re already grappling with serious shortages of testing kits, protective equipment and other tools necessary to battle the outbreak that’s sickened thousands across the country and brought everyday life to a virtual standstill.

An influx of new arrivals into their small communities, they argue, risks taxing those limited resources even further while greatly increasing the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus among an especially vulnerable population.

“Here we are with facilities that cope reasonably well with 3,500 (people) suddenly facing a situation which, if it goes the way that the rest of the countries in the world seem to be going, could suddenly see us with a hopelessly inadequate supply of physicians, facilities, materials,” said Dr. George Harpur, a family physician with a practice in Tobermory, Ont.

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Harpur said many cottage-country communities, including his, have learned to ramp up staffing levels and services from hospitals to grocery stores during the summer months when affluent urban residents flock en masse to their secondary homes.

But those resources simply aren’t in place at this time of year, he said, leaving communities poorly equipped to accommodate the early arrival of seasonal residents at the best of times.