COVID case counts rising faster in Simcoe-Muskoka compared to surrounding regions

Greater number of youth among new cases

There’s been a surge in new COVID cases in recent days, more so in Simcoe County than elsewhere. This has the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) streamlining its contact tracing practices in order to reach more people in time.

The SMDHU says the number of COVID-19 cases in Simcoe-Muskoka has surged recently, with the local incident rate rising from 21 cases per 100,000 people to 40.9 per 100,000 over the past two weeks. While a rise in cases has been noted province-wide, Ontario and surrounding public health units saw incidence rates of 17 and 22.3 for the same timeframe.

The SMDHU’s medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner, is unable to say why case counts are rising more locally than elsewhere. “Why it has risen here sooner than the province as a whole and why it is quite a bit higher than the province right now, I don’t have the definitive answer for that,” he said during a media availability on Wednesday.

However, Gardner does point to vaccine rates as a possible reason why Simcoe-Muskoka’s case count is increasing faster than the provincial average. “When I look across the province, I do see an interesting pattern. The parts of the province that were hardest hit for most of the pandemic, the Greater Toronto Area in particular, now have lower rates of transmission. Certainly, they were prioritized early on to receive immunization, and they had hotspot neighbourhoods to receive more immunization early on, and they did succeed in achieving high rates of immunization early on,” added Gardner. “We had always had low rates of transmission, half the rate of the province through the pandemic, we generally were a lower priority to receive vaccine early on. So our vaccination rate is a little bit behind the provincial rate.”

Gardner says a rise in exposures has been noted at some food premises, recreational facilities, hotels and short-term rental locations, and multi-unit dwellings. He does point out there has been an increase in cases among children too young to be vaccinated. “I think this speaks to the importance of immunization. The fact that it’s those who are not immunized or cannot get immunized who are representing the majority of the cases and are most vulnerable to be to becoming cases.”

With an increased caseload to deal with, the SMDHU announced on Wednesday it is changing its COVID contact tracing procedure in order to get to the most amount of people in the shortest amount of time. Those who are identified as cases will be instructed to notify their close contacts to take appropriate steps. “We are prioritizing outbreaks in certain settings that are vulnerable, including schools and congregate settings, and are limited in our ability to be able to get to all clusters of cases in order to determine whether or not they are outbreaks.”

On Wednesday, the SMDHU reported 63 new cases, nearly double that of just a day prior.