DRYDEN, Ont. - The medical officer of health with the Northwestern Health Unit is pleading with people in the region to follow public health guidelines, as failure to do so will only lead to more cases, longer shutdowns, and even greater illness.
“It is concerning we continue to see a high number of new cases each week despite being in a stay-at-home order,” said Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health with the Northwestern Health Unit.
“Following public health measures and not looking for ways to bend, break, or ignore the law is critical to be able to reopen. Keeping numbers down mean less chance the virus will mutate and give vaccines a chance to work.”
The NWHU reported 11 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, raising the number of active cases to 67, up from 62 the previous day.
Of the new cases, 10 are in the Sioux Lookout area and one is in the Fort Frances area. Across the entire catchment area, the Sioux Lookout area now has 28 active cases, the Kenora area at 21, the Fort Frances area with 11, four in the Emo area, two in the Rainy River area, and one in the Dryden area.
Young Hoon said the increasing number of new daily cases is due in large part to people not following public health guidelines, including workplace outbreaks where people continue to go to work despite having symptoms of COVID-19.
In February, the NWHU issued a Section 22 order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act in an effort to ensure people continue to self-isolate if they are a high-risk COVID-19 contact.
Young Hoon added the consequences of not following public health guidelines go well beyond facing charges or fines.
“The reality of people choosing to violate the law and ignoring public health measures will prolong the shutdown and continue to increase cases and illnesses in our area,” she said. “These decisions can jeopardize people’s lives and livelihoods and puts people’s lives at risk.”
Variants of concern are detected in the region may also be fueling outbreaks and increasing daily case numbers.
According to the NWHU, since January 2021, there have been 56 confirmed variants of concern in the catchment area. Most of the cases have screened positive for the U.K. variant, but a previous case in Dryden has recently screened positive for the variant first discovered in Brazil.
The NWHU said there does not appear to be any other cases linked to the Brazilian variant case, but Young Hoon said it is likely variant cases, such as the U.K. variant, are in all regions in the catchment area.
“Likely the variants of concern are contributing to the increase in number. They are more transmissible,” she said. “When public health measures are not being followed, it affects a larger number of people. Some of our outbreaks can range from five people to 15 people or even more. That is greater than what we’ve seen in outbreaks in the past.”
Despite the outbreaks and growing number of cases, the Northwest has not seen the same level of hospitalizations or severe illness as other parts of the province.
Currently there are only three people in hospital with the virus and Young Hoon said there could be a number of factors contributing to the low hospitalization rate but that could quickly change.
“It could be the vaccination program is having an effect in blunting the increase in cases we are seeing right now,” she said.
“Overall I am concerned that if case numbers keep increasing that the vaccination program won’t be coming in time to protect us. It does feel right now we are needing to be patient and wait for the vaccination program to be effective before connecting with one another in person.”
This includes in a workplace setting and while most workplaces are following public health guidelines, Young Hoon said there are still trends of people going into work while sick.
“That is an issue that needs to be looked at more closely with respect to workplace outbreaks,” she said. “We are looking at that closely to see how to ensure appropriate enforcement for workplaces and that they will support employees to stay home if they are symptomatic. That is something we are looking at and reviewing closely.”