“My concern is that we are losing an important control measure,” says Simcoe-Muskoka top doc on lifting of lockdown

Charles Gardner's concern stems from COVID variants in the region

The lifting of the lockdown across most of Ontario on Feb. 16, including in Simcoe Muskoka, is not the road Dr. Charles Gardner would have travelled.

At a media briefing on Tuesday, the medical officer of health for Simcoe-Muskoka was asked if he supported the Ford government’s decision to end the stay-at-home order for most of Ontario a week from today.

“With the U.K. variant in Simcoe Muskoka, I would prefer that we had been able to keep that control measure, and I think the risk that we’re now taking is that we may have more transmission,” said Gardner.

“You might have a greater degree of transmission of this much more transmissible virus that has proved to be quite dangerous in the outbreaks that we’ve had, in particular Roberta Place, but we’re also really seeing it very much at Waypoint now as well.”

Roberta Place is the Barrie long-term care home that has been ravaged by a COVID-19 outbreak traced to the variant first detected in the U.K. Gardner said 65 cases can be linked to the variant. The outbreak has killed 69 residents, of which 66 deaths are confirmed COVID, and the other three deaths are probable cases of the virus. There are 100 staff who have been infected and 145 household contacts of those employees who also have the virus.

Bradford Valley long-term care also has an outbreak with links to the same variant. There are 15 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19. Six of them have the variant and four have screened for a variant of concern, while three of six staff who have the virus have also tested positive for the variant linked to the U.K. There have also been two deaths.

Gardner said he is very concerned about an outbreak at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health in Penetanguishene, which he noted has clearly expanded in the past two weeks.

Twelve staff and 16 patients at Waypoint have the virus; there have been five deaths. One of those employees has tested positive for the variant linked to the U.K., and there are four other staff who have tested positive for a variant of concern.

Gardner pointed out it’s just not long-term care facilities where the variant is being detected. There are 24 COVID-19 cases at a real estate and rental lease location in Simcoe County and one of the cases is positive for a variant of concern. A finance and insurance business in Simcoe County has six positive cases of COVID, and one of those individuals has tested positive for a variant of concern.

With variants popping up in different settings in Simcoe County, Gardner is hesitant about moving from lockdown and a return to the colour-coded framework.

“My concern is that we’re losing an important control measure and something that is very helpful and effective in reducing transmission,” said Gardner.

“It’s already been noted provincially that we’re in a precarious situation. I’d rather we’d waited until it was less precarious, so you had lower numbers. And for that matter, you’ve got the emergence of these variants of concern. I’d rather we waited to see what happens with that.”

At this point, Gardner isn’t sure what colour framework Simcoe Muskoka will be in come February 16. He will be consulting with provincial health officials, though he did suggest the region as it currently stands would likely get a red designation.