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In open letter, region’s top doc doesn’t rule out reinstating capacity limits to get COVID-19 rates stabilized or reversed

'We continue to see dramatic increases in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout Simcoe Muskoka'

With the holiday season just around the corner, a possible return to capacity limits for most indoor settings including restaurants, gyms and bars is being floated by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU).

In an open letter on Friday to businesses, organizations and residents within the County of Simcoe, the District of Muskoka and the Cities of Orillia and Barrie, and a second letter to the Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) at each municipality, Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU’s Medical Officer of Health, appealed to everyone in Simcoe Muskoka to continue to practice all public health measures to help reverse the increasing spread of COVID-19 in the area.

“We continue to see dramatic increases in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout Simcoe Muskoka and these letters are a reminder that everyone in the community is required to protect each other from COVID-19 and to maintain and support our scarce health and public health resources,” said Gardner.

“I recognize the hardships and fatigue you have all faced during this lengthy pandemic, and I sincerely appreciate the ongoing efforts of the residents, businesses and organizations in Simcoe and Muskoka in protecting our communities. Together, we can reverse our increasing community transmission of COVID-19 and help usher in a safer holiday season ahead for our communities.”

On Friday, the SMDHU reported 117 new COVID-19 infections and two more deaths. Of the new cases, 70 were in people not fully vaccinated. There were 62 resolved cases.

Gardner said the collective efforts of the Simcoe and Muskoka community are required to protect each other from COVID-19 and to maintain and support our scarce health and public health resources. He noted this was particularly important during the holiday season and in the winter months, which is often a time of indoor gatherings and activities.

“In the meantime, unfortunately, our cases have continued to rise to a current weekly incidence rate of more than 80 cases per 100,000 persons as of December 2, 2021, which represents a doubling over the past four weeks. This places us among the health units with the highest incidence of COVID-19 in the province, well over the present provincial incidence (which was 36.7 cases per 100,000 population per week from November 21 to 27),” stated Gardner in his open letter.

“The majority of these local cases have been among people who are not fully vaccinated, although there are also cases amongst vaccinated individuals. While the age group with the highest incidence rate is children between 5 to 11 years of age (who have only recently become eligible for vaccination), the majority of cases are actually occurring among youth and young to middle-aged adults (given that they also have a high incidence and are a larger group than children under 12).”

The health unit said that protective measures include:

  • Getting vaccinated for whatever dose you are eligible for (first, second or third/booster). Vaccination is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community and help us get back to the people and things we love.
  • Wearing a mask or face covering that covers your mouth, nose and chin during any period when they are in the indoor area of the premises, unless exempt under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (ROA) and associated regulations. 
  • For individuals who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, keeping gatherings to only those within their household, unless physical distancing is practised and/or face coverings are worn.
  • For individuals who are fully vaccinated, keeping gatherings to a small number of people outside of their household. For the protection of all, preferably everyone should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • For businesses that host people for holiday celebrations and activities, minimize capacity within indoor settings and given the higher degree of risk (e.g., removing masks for eating and drinking) recommend limiting capacity to the number of people who can maintain physical distancing of two metres
  • Businesses and organizations should host holiday gatherings remotely to avoid larger groups of individuals congregating, that can assist in spreading the virus.
  • Enabling remote work for employees, where reasonably possible, to reduce the number of workers exposed to the risk of transmission at the workplace.

The health unit said if these collective efforts are not enough to stabilize or reverse the increasing transmission rate in Simcoe Muskoka the health unit may consider reinstating capacity limits that were lifted by the province in October.

The Ford government lifted indoor capacity limits for most settings in October where proof-of-vaccination is required, including bars, restaurants and gyms.

“I note other health units across the province that are in similar circumstances, and in particular, three health units in the north with the highest incidences of COVID-19 have put in place capacity limits for facilities and businesses that had been lifted in October,” Gardner said at a media briefing on Wednesday.

Those health units are in Timiskaming, Sudbury and Algoma.