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No clear case for regional reopening in NWHU: Young Hoon

With case numbers gradually worsening through April and failing to show signs of improvement, Northwestern Health Unit better off under stay-at-home order, medical officer of health says.
Dr. Kit Young Hoon Northwestern Health Unit
Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health for the Northwestern Health Unit, isn't ready to recommend a return to a regional approach. (Submitted Photo)

SIOUX LOOKOUT, Ont. – With no consistent signs of improvement in the Northwestern Health Unit’s COVID-19 numbers, medical officer of health Dr. Kit Young Hoon says it makes sense for the region to remain under a provincial stay-at-home order.

There were 50 active cases across the health unit as of Friday, with seven new cases reported that day.

The NWHU's COVID-19 incidence rate is less than half the provincial average in recent data, likely putting the health unit in the Red-Control level under the previous colour-coded provincial framework, Young Hoon said at a Friday press conference.

That numbers remained relatively high after weeks under a stay-at-home order emphasizes the need for caution, she suggested.

“Over the course of April, the case numbers for our catchment area have been gradually worsening, so I don’t have the evidence to suggest removing those orders would be necessarily beneficial for us,” she said. “The fact that our case numbers have worsened while the stay-at-home orders have been in place suggests they could have been much worse if the orders weren’t in place.”

Young Hoon’s counterpart in the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, Dr. Janet DeMille, has stated her support for a return to the province’s former regional approach, with local COVID-19 indicators falling consistently in recent weeks.

The NWHU would need to see a similar trend for Young Hoon to be comfortable recommending a switch from the current stay-at-home order, expected to be in place province-wide until at least June 2.

There had been only "limited discussion" with provincial health leaders over the possibility of returning to a regional approach, she said Friday.

“I think I’d have a clearer recommendation if case numbers were to be declining over time and there was a definite trend of improvement over the course of a few weeks,” she said.

She hoped instructions issued this week to businesses, backed up by fines, would help curb a growing trend of workplace outbreaks. An outbreak was declared most recently at a KFC in Dryden.

Under the new instructions, businesses could face fines of up to $25,000 a day if they allow employees to report to work with COVID-19 symptoms.

Of the seven new cases reported Friday, four were in the NWHU’s Dryden health hub and three were in the Sioux Lookout hub.

That area now accounts for most of the active cases across the health unit, with 34 active as of Friday. Recent cases affected multiple First Nations in the hub, as well as Sioux Lookout itself, Young Hoon said.

Cases have appeared to stabilize in the area, she noted.

“It’s not rapidly worsening which is good news. We’re still monitoring to see that significant improvement we’d like to see.”

Elsewhere across the NWHU, there were nine active cases in the Dryden health hub, six in the Kenora health hub, and a single active case in the Fort Frances hub.

A small surge of cases in the Dryden hub was related to the outbreak at KFC as well as a “private group of individuals” where spread occurred after the virus was brought in from another part of Ontario, Young Hoon said.

“Everyone affected is isolating, and both situations are under control,” she said.

Three NWHU residents were in hospital with the virus as of Friday.

The health unit had a testing positivity rate of 2.75 per cent on 1,636 tests completed from May 3 to 9, the most recent week reported.

Its incidence rate fell to 55.9 cases per 100,000 for the week of May 4 to 10. That compares to incidence rates of 15.3 in the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and 131.4 province-wide over the same period.

About 48 per cent of the NWHU’s population aged 18 and over had received at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday.