MOH hears opposition to regional lockdown

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The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is bracing for protests and non-compliance given the backlash from going into lockdown on March 1.
Medical officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner said the community has been very communicative about their concerns and opposition to the classification under the province’s framework, which limits businesses and recreation opportunities.
Although the decision to put Simcoe Muskoka in lockdown was ultimately made at the provincial level, Gardner said last week that he would be advising the province to do so.
Gardner said his main focus is on the variants of concern (VOC), and the potential to cause a third wave as the variant strain is now dominant in Simcoe-Grey, specifically Barrie and the southern part of Simcoe County.
There has been much talk of treating the less impacted areas of the Simcoe Muskoka region as separate entities, but the province has been unwilling to break up regions. Gardner said he is of two minds of the proposal, because it would reduce some protections for the areas to the north, which have seen low cases of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.
Since using the “emergency brake” Monday to slow transmission, the steep increase in cases that Gardner was worried about hasn’t materialized.
He described “a mixed complex picture” of a reduction of total case counts juxtaposed with an increase in the number of outbreaks, sporadic and geographic spread.
“The main rationale for declaring this district to be in the grey/lockdown status is because of our very large number of variants of concern in our district,” said Gardner.
“Two-thirds of our cases are a VOC which is very high compared to what we’ve seen in other health units,” said Gardner, adding that others are in the range of 20 per cent or less. “So we are definitely trending upward.”
Simcoe Muskoka has the largest number of UK variant cases in the province, with large increases of cases and outbreaks of the B.1.1.7 (the UK) variant in workplaces, long term care facilities, a child care centre and an apartment building.
He said the reproductive rate is still at its highest since the first wave, and knowing what the variant can do, having seen a third wave in the UK, there is still cause for concern.
Gardner said it was “emotional” to read more than 200 e-mails from people who say they are experiencing economic hardship and those who want to get back to their dance classes and other recreational activities. He said it has been very good for him to hear directly from the community.
He said he’s “certainly had a very tangible sense” of the long-term affects of the lockdown and is now starting to hear from municipal politicians.
“I’m very much aware of the difficulty and the harm, and a great desire to move away from this. I’ve also heard from people who support this protection, this precautionary approach,” said Gardner.
He said he has ongoing daily communication about the status, which will be determined by the numbers in the coming days.
There have been 104 new cases reported to the health unit for the current week. There were 255 new cases reported to the health unit the week of Feb. 21, approximately 10 per cent lower than the 276 cases reported for the week of Feb. 14.
As of presstime, 216 local cases have been tested positive for the COVID-19 variant of concern UK B.1.1.7 and an additional 382 cases have screened positive (awaiting confirmatory testing)
Over 45,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Simcoe Muskoka, mostly to health care workers in local hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes. This includes more than 15,500 individuals who have received both of the required doses of the vaccine. In addition, 2,958 (or 92 per cent) long-term care residents and 3,460 (or 95 per cent) retirement home residents have received their first dose.
In the month of January, 88 Simcoe Muskoka residents died from COVID-19, over four times higher than the number of deaths in December 2020 (18). There were 31 COVID-19 related deaths in February, which is the second highest number of deaths in a single month since the start of the pandemic.
The vast majority of COVID-19 cases in Simcoe Muskoka have recovered from the infection.
Seniors 80 years of age and older had the highest rate of infection in January, with over 90 per cent of these cases associated with an institutional outbreak. Young adults (18-34 years) had the highest rate of infection in February.

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