Dr. Gardner sympathetic, but defends move to Grey-Lockdown as opposition mounts

Hoping to avoid larger variant outbreak as seen in UK, Denmark

Simcoe-Muskoka Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Charles Gardner, took to Facebook Live Sunday to explain the rationale for asking the province to move the region into the Grey-Lockdown zone just two weeks after the provincial Stay-At-Home order was lifted.

He also acknowledged the impact safety measures over the last year have had on small businesses.

This, as a number of small business operators have suggested they will ignore the Grey restrictions and open Monday regardless.

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Gardner noted Simcoe County experienced a very large and severe second wave from September to January, largely due to the arrival of COVID variants to the region – more than in other health units. It was the shutdown in January, he said, that kept it under control.

Still, as the overall number of new COVID-19 cases came down, Dr. Gardner said the number of variant instances within those cases rose, due in large part to the outbreak at Roberta Place Long Term Care in Barrie, “(it) infected almost all of the residents and more than half of the staff and then went on to infect entire households of those staff members and other agencies that participated in the response and resulted in a very large number of cases in our community.”

Gardner said that speaks to how readily the variants can transmit, pointing to outbreaks in a manufacturing facility, a financial service office, a restaurant, an agricultural facility, a childcare facility, and an apartment complex with 25 individuals infected and one death.

In the back of his mind, he said, was the experience in the UK, Ireland, and Denmark, where once the variant became dominant, it led to the kind of surge that was very difficult to control.

That, said Dr, Gardner, is what he’s hoping to avoid here with the move into Grey-Lockdown, with over 60 per cent of COVID cases in Simcoe-Muskoka being either the UK variant or a variant of concern awaiting confirmation.

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The anger and pleas from the business community have not fallen on deaf ears.

“It’s part of our difficulty in dealing with the pandemic. I acknowledge it, I don’t know a better way, though, than to continue to work with this framework…and I’ve heard calls for (the Grey restrictions) to be greatly modified and there may be the potential for the province to do that. They’ve done that kind of thing all along. It has been a tool that’s been modified and changed to try and make it the right balance all the way along but I don’t think it’s ever going to be perfect until we actually achieve herd immunity with immunization.”

Gardner says he will keep the line of communication open with the provincial Medical Officer of Health, and report any changes in numbers that could result in a modification of Grey restrictions, but “I’m concerned that, you know, if you decide to go in a direction and then you turn around, what do you do then if, in fact, there’s a jump again and (numbers) continue in the wrong direction?”