Gardner on province easing restrictions: ‘It’s happening a little early’

The SMDHU reports 11 deaths in the past week

Ontario is set to ease restrictions starting on Thursday, Feb. 17, but Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), says “it’s happening a little early.” 

During a Wednesday media briefing, Gardner was asked what he thought about the province’s schedule for reducing restrictions.  

“There is an increased risk,” said Gardner. “Chief medical officer [Kieran Moore] feels it’s heading in the right direction and feels confident about moving in this direction from the point of view of hospital capacity and impact on the healthcare system. 

“But I think it’s important for people to know on an individual level for themselves and their family members, their loved ones, that there is still a substantial risk. And as we open up, they need to be aware of that and make decisions to protect themselves.”  

Beginning Thursday, capacity limits in indoor public settings, where proof of vaccination is required, are being lifted, including restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas, and casinos, while sports arenas, concert venues and theatres will allow 50 per cent seating capacity.  

The province will also increase social gathering limits to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.  

Ontario will be removing the vaccine passport system on March 1, but businesses and other settings can choose to continue requiring proof of vaccination – a notion the SMDHU medical officer supports.  

Gardner says caution is needed as the province progresses into looser restrictions. 

“As medical officers of health, we will need to monitor the trajectory and see if it starts to reverse itself and possibly result in a second wave, or surge, of Omicron.” 

Gardner noted the science table identified this possibility with modelling released two weeks ago.  

During his chat with the media, the medical officer also stated that SMDHU will be looking to provide more school vaccination clinics.

Gardner said there was good turnout at the first three schools and not just during school hours but also during the evening when the rest of the community could attend.

He said there is an indication of interest for this to continue, as 2,600 consent forms were signed by parents and collected by the Simcoe County District School Board.

Gardner said the health unit will be booking a range of other schools starting next week.

The SMDHU reports 43 people in hospital with the virus and of those 12 are in the ICU. Gardner says 34 are from Simcoe County while nine are from Muskoka.  

He also noted that five are associated with institutional outbreaks and 38 are sporadic cases in the community. 16 are not vaccinated (six of the 12 in the ICU), 15 have had two doses of the vaccine (five of the 12 in the ICU), four are partially vaccinated (one dose), and eight have had three doses.  

The patients range from 30 to 90 years of age, with 74 per cent of them greater than 60 years old, and four are under 45 years.  

Gardner said there were 11 deaths over the past week.

Eight males and three females, one from Muskoka and ten from Simcoe County, while the ages ranged from 50s to 90s.

He also said six of them had two or more doses of the vaccine, while five were unvaccinated.

Banner image – file photo – Barrie 360