‘Historic levels of transmission happening across the province and here in Simcoe Muskoka’: Region’s top doc on COVID-19 infections

94 per cent of recent COVID-19 cases in Simcoe Muskoka are confirmed, or suspected, to be Omicron

Omicron is the king of the COVID castle in Simcoe Muskoka.

“We are at very high rates of transmission right now, much higher than we’ve ever seen in the pandemic to date, including the daily count of being the highest that we’ve ever had,” said Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner.

The health unit reported a record one-day count of 715 infections on Dec. 31.

“Historic levels of transmission happening across the province and here in Simcoe Muskoka,” said Gardner. “It is very important people take the risks very seriously.”

Gardner told a media briefing on Friday that 94 per cent of recent COVID-19 cases in the region are confirmed, or suspected, to be the Omicron variant. To date, there are 150 Omicron cases in the region.

As of Friday in Ontario, those eligible for publicly funded PCR tests are high-risk individuals who are symptomatic or who are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19. This includes hospital staff and patients, people who live, work or provide care at long-term care or other congregate settings, and people from or who work in Indigenous communities.

The province has said anyone who does not meet the new criteria and has symptoms of COVID-19 should assume they are infected and should self-isolate for a minimum of five days following the date when their symptoms started.

Gardner was asked if not knowing how many cases are really in the region is going to be a detriment to local health officials.

“We know that surveillance doesn’t pick up everything,” he noted. “For every case that you know, there is an unknown number of cases that are in the community that didn’t have symptoms or didn’t come forward to get tested. We’ve always known that it’s not been perfect.”

“I would say that as you get into a situation where your capacity is exceeded by what’s happening, you have to take into account any rise that we see or if we see a plateau, we have to be looking at other indicators of severity as well, such as hospitalization, ICU admission, and the per cent positivity.”

He said most cases won’t be followed up directly by public health and people will have to monitor themselves and manage these things.

“There are probably many more cases than the numbers detected by testing. The numbers are exceeding the capacity of our system.”

Gardner also reminded everyone about the challenges hospitals in the region are facing.

“Our hospitals, although they don’t have a high number of COVID cases yet, are challenged with a big draw on emergency departments, a reduced ability to transfer patients back to long-term care facilities and many of their staff have been off ill,” he said.

Gardner said three hospitals are at capacity for their intensive care units.