SUDBURY -- The City of Elliot Lake, between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, is the latest northern community to issue a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

City officials say the decision was made following a municipal emergency control group meeting over the weekend.

Mayor Dan Marchisella said it is a precautionary measure, considering approximately 52 per cent of residents are retired.

"I began the week the same as many national health care professionals with cautious optimism, but as the week progressed that optimism went with it," said Marchisella.

The mayor said he believed the order was necessary, as a way to demonstrate to residents throughout Elliot Lake the seriousness of this pandemic.

"There're still too many people not respecting the dire and dangerous situation that we are all living in right now," he said. "This is an invisible enemy and all of us are at risk; not just the vulnerable sector, all of us are at risk of catching this virus and essentially spreading the virus and potentially killing others."

In response to these concerns, the city council also approved a new bylaw to enforce proper physical distancing in the community. Anyone found in violation could face a minimum fine of $500, going all the way up to $100,000.

"My council has taken control of the situation at a local level based on many irrational statements and irresponsible actions from quite a few members of the community and members of other communities coming in and out," said Marchisella.

Potential violations of the bylaw include any gatherings of more than five non-family members or any businesses failing to follow physical distancing orders from the province. However, Marchisella says this doesn't mean the town is in lockdown.

"You can still go out and walk your dog and do work on your yard and walk on some of the trail systems. We're trying to avoid the socialization and congregations of people, and we're still seeing it in some of our locations and towns, even though they've been closed down. This is a short period of our lives to be precautious," he said.

Marchisella says additional bylaw officers have been appointed and more could be added in the future if deemed necessary.

The city will be holding a virtual information session, which will highlight additional pandemic and service level charges. It will be televised Monday, April 6 at 7 p.m. on Eastlink cable 10 and live-streamed on the city's website.