Strong response from public for COVID vaccine as Simcoe-Muskoka’s top doc continues to preach caution

Dr. Charles Gardner says a good summer to him would be to avoid a fourth wave

With the province this week rolling out COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to Ontario residents 18+, Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner said it’s gratifying.

“Over 253,000 people in Simcoe-Muskoka have received their first dose, making 42 per cent of all of our residents, and over 23,300 individuals have received a second dose,” Gardner said. “Over 50 per cent of our adult population 18 and over have received at least one dose of immunization.”

Gardner told a media briefing on Tuesday that it is important for people to know that although they are eligible to book there may be some lag before they actually get a date and it could very well be in June.

He encouraged people to seek out immunization at pharmacies as more of them are participating.

Prime Minister Trudeau recently mused about a one-dose summer in that there would be enough vaccine supply to have every Canadian who wants one immunized with their first shot, while Premier Doug Ford took it up a notch and promised a fully vaccinated Ontario population by the end of this summer.

Gardner was asked what a good summer would look like to him.

“For me, we avoid a fourth wave and that we manage to bring down the case counts low enough so that we can start to certainly open up the outdoor amenities. If we’re very fortunate, to open up some businesses to some degree, such as outdoor dining and that sort of thing,” he said.

“I don’t know how quickly we can get to the point that you’re doing more in the way of indoor amenities, indoor recreation and indoor business operations. I think we need to be very cautious about that.”

Gardner said you need the rate of transmission well under control and high rates of vaccinations. Even then, he suggested we are going to need social distancing and mask use for an indefinite period of time.

While he preached caution, Gardner said the summer weather gives people the chance to be outdoors.

“If you can get to the point where we can allow something in the way of social gatherings outdoors with reduced transmission, I think that would go a long way to improving our quality of minds and our mental and physical well-being.”

The stay-at-home order has been extended until June 2. Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said earlier this month that he would like to see daily case counts fall to “well below 1,000” before the stay-at-home order is lifted.

He will get no argument from Gardner.

“One-thousand cases a day is what we had when we opened up in February. I indicated at that point that it was too soon and the transmission rates too high. I would be concerned if we opened up at 1,000 cases.”

The Ford government continues to take flak over its decision not to reopen outdoor amenities and Gardner said there are challenges in the implementation. He said there is the possibility some outdoor amenities could be opened while the stay-at-home order is maintained.

“That is, you could use some outdoor amenities but not with others who aren’t from your household,” he explained. “It might be more challenging for locations like soccer fields, so you couldn’t be having games. You would just have individuals and household members using a space. I am not sure what it would be for amenities such as golf. Outdoor amenities such as baseball diamonds would really require a lifting of the gathering prohibition that is in place right now.”

Gardner said there will be a fourth wave if there isn’t a cautious reopening.

What he really wants to see in the near future is a framework about how the province will reopen.

“It should not be the same framework that we had before that was based on individual health units and their local experience. I think we need a much bigger geographic area and potentially the whole province. If not that, then a much larger geographic area so you don’t get that kind of migration of people from areas that are more restricted to areas that are less restricted resulting in transmission.”

There has been a week-on-week reduction of cases dating back to the week of April 11 in Simcoe-Muskoka with a 53 per cent reduction over a five-week period in the weekly case count, and active cases have declined to 767 compared to 972 cases a week ago.