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‘We cannot let our guard down,’ says region’s top doc as COVID cases rise sharply in Simcoe Muskoka

Health unit says 1,282 cases reported first week of April, 75% higher than reported three weeks before

News release from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit

Contribution from Barrie 360

Following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates and the arrival of a sixth wave driven by the more transmissible COVID-19 Omicron BA.2 variant, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) is seeing a steady increase of COVID-19 in our area as demonstrated by rising case counts, outbreaks, hospitalizations, and through wastewater analysis.

While an increase in COVID-19 infection was anticipated following the lifting of provincial preventive measures, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported to the health unit has sharply risen, with 1,282 cases reported for the week of April 3, 79 per cent higher than the 715 cases reported three weeks before (week of March 20). This trend is being seen across the province, with Simcoe Muskoka having a higher incidence rate (208 new cases/100,000 population) than the province (148/100,000 population) for the week of April 3.

“The number of cases, outbreaks and hospitalizations we are seeing in Simcoe Muskoka is very concerning,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU’s medical officer of health. “The pandemic is not over and we cannot let our guard down. I want to emphasize once again, as stated in my March 23 Special Statement to the community, that it is still essential that people take precautions to protect themselves and those around them, particularly those who are most vulnerable. The most important way to do this is to get vaccinated and to stay up to date with all vaccinations you are eligible for, including booster doses. With provincial restrictions no longer in place I also continue to strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask in all indoor public spaces as a simple way to prevent the spread of the virus. It is up to each of us as individuals to help slow the spread of this sixth wave by taking these and other personal precautions I continue to strongly recommend.”  

As for a return to mandatory masking in indoor public settings, Gardner told a media briefing on Tuesday that he doesn’t expect that to happen.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of fatigue in the popular public, and I think with each wave it becomes more and more difficult to be able to do that, whether it’s done local or whether it’s done by the province.”

Gardner added they are trying messaging, positioning and education for people. While he said he is in ongoing discussion with his colleagues across the province and the Chief Medical Officer of Health about the potential to go beyond that, Gardner feels it would be very challenging.

In the last three days, Gardner said Simcoe Muskoka had a total of 532 new cases of COVID-19, levels not seen since late January, and that the region’s weekly incidence of the virus in the past four weeks is higher than the provincial average on a per capita basis.

But he did acknowledge, it was a far cry from the highest incidence, which on December 31, 2021 at over 700 cases per 100,000 population per week.

In addition to getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in indoor public settings, precautions include limiting your number of close contacts, physically distancing from people outside your household, ensuring good ventilation or spending time outdoors, practicing proper hand hygiene, and staying home if you are feeling unwell. Taking these precautions will help stop the transmission of the virus, reduce people’s risk of getting severe illness, and protect our healthcare resources that are currently under strain due to physician and hospital staff absenteeism from COVID-19 exposure and illness.

While this is a time of year when people commonly gather to observe and celebrate holidays, it is important to remember that knowing someone does not reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Virtual gatherings or events are still the safest way to celebrate and if you opt to host or attend a gathering or event, remember that outdoor gatherings are safer than those held indoors. When hosting or attending an event indoors, you can decrease your risk by limiting the number of guests, keeping windows open to improve ventilation, physically distancing and wearing a face covering when with people who are not part of your household. A mask should be a well-fitted medical mask or a high-quality 3-layer cloth mask that fits properly, covering your nose, mouth and chin with no gaps to ensure that it effectively filters the air. The health unit reminds the public that each preventive measure provides a layer of protection, with vaccination remaining an essential tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Individuals who have not yet received their COVID-19 vaccination or booster doses are encouraged to do so as soon as they are eligible. First booster doses are available to youth aged 12 to 17 years at least six months (168 days) after they received the second dose of their primary series, while adults 18 years and older can receive a first booster three months (84 days) after their second dose. It is equally important that children aged five to 11 years receive two doses of the paediatric COVID-19 vaccine and parents are encouraged to get children vaccinated as soon as they are able.

COVID

On April 7, Ontario expanded fourth dose (second booster) COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include individuals 60 years and older as well as Indigenous individuals and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18 and over. A second booster protects against the Omicron and BA.2 variants and bolsters waning immunity. The recommended interval for a second booster is five months (140 days) following a first booster but may be received as early as three months (84 days) following the first booster.

To learn more about COVID-19 and where to get a vaccination, visit www.smdhu.org/COVID19.

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