The pandemic did not disappear with the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario, and Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner urged the public to continue to practice public health measures to protect themselves.
“We are still experiencing a substantial amount of COVID-19 transmission in our communities and there is the potential for some increase in transmission in the weeks to come,” Gardner said in a statement.
The region’s top doctor also announced at Wednesday’s COVID-19 media briefing that after two years this would be his last regular update, and any future updates would be on an as-needed basis.
Gardner also indicated that the health unit was beginning to transition back to regular programming, including updating childhood vaccines. But he noted a full transition will take most of the year and would depend on the outcome of the pandemic.
To highlight the extent to which the Omicron variant remains in the community, Gardner said incidents of the virus climbed 36 per cent between the week of March 13 to 19 compared to the previous week, or in other words, 590 cases in that time period compared to 133 cases the preceding week, March 2 to the 12. He said Simcoe Muskoka had seen a significant increase in incidents compared to the rest of the province.
According to Gardner, this fifth wave of the pandemic surpassed all previous waves combined.
“And that’s to say the approach to testing has been narrowed to only those who live or work in congregate settings or high-risk settings, and we had a total of 151 deaths in the fifth wave, which makes up the wave with the greatest number of deaths.”
Wave two had the second-highest number of deaths in Simcoe Muskoka at 143.
However, so far for the month of March, 19 per cent of deaths that have occurred have been associated with outbreaks and long-term care facilities, down what it had been earlier in the year.
Gardner stressed the need for people to get vaccinated.
“Although more than 80 per cent of our eligible population is vaccinated with their primary series, there is still a percentage of those who have not been vaccinated, and almost half (47 per cent) of those eligible have not received a booster,” said Gardner. “A booster does help to reduce the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and transmitting to others, and it provides better protection against severe illness than does the primary vaccination series.”
Gardner had no information regarding a possible fourth dose of vaccine, though he added future doses might be recommended due to waning immunity post-vaccination.
While masking requirements were lifted for most places on March 21 in Ontario, Gardner recommended people continue to wear masks in indoor public settings and workplace settings where they cannot be physically distanced from others.