After weeks of plateauing case rates, Windsor-Essex is starting to see a sharp rise in new COVID-19 cases and variants of concern, according to the region's medical officer of health.
If the situation isn't contained and controlled, a resurgence of the virus like what was seen in December and January could occur, Dr. Wajid Ahmed said at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit's (WECHU) daily briefing on Tuesday.
There was a large increase in the region's weekly case rate per 100,000 people for the week that ended on Saturday. It rose from 47.8 to 71.6, Ahmed said. The case rate for the most recent seven days is slightly higher, at 74.6.
"It's a stark reminder that things are moving into the wrong direction and we clearly have an opportunity to still contain it as best as we can by following all these measures and with the shutdown in place it should help us contain our case rates," he said, referencing new provincial measures that took effect on Saturday.
The health unit reported a three-day increase of 126 new cases of COVID-19. There are now 433 known active cases in the region, the highest number seen since early February.
The number of variants of concern has increased rapidly, Ahmed said. There are 116 confirmed or preliminary cases of the more contagious COVID-19 strains, including three determined to be the B117 variant first found in the U.K.
About 32 per cent of the region's variant cases were community acquired, meaning there is no known source of transmission.
"Which is a huge concern because that essentially means that there are people with the variant of concern that are out in the community and continue to spread the virus without knowing whether they have it," Ahmed said.
600 students isolating
Overall, young adults and school-aged children have the highest rates of test positivity in the region, Ahmed said.
There are currently about 600 students and 30 staff members in isolation due to COVID-19 cases across 24 schools. Fourteen cohorts were dismissed over the weekend.
Ahmed said he would order all schools to shut down — as he did in December — if he thought it was necessary but he hopes that things don't reach that point.
The data shows those affected tend to be contracting the virus through household contacts rather than at schools, he said.
There are no schools currently in outbreak in the region.
No new vaccine appointments
The health unit has suspended booking new COVID-19 vaccination appointments and has filled all slots up to the end of April 12 pending additional direction from regarding priority populations from the province, CEO Theresa Marentette said.
The health unit is looking at the data and feasibility of vaccinating essential workers such as teachers but did not provide additional details on when that could occur.
The region has surpassed 102,000 doses of vaccine administered, and 90,088 people have gotten at least one dose.
Of the 126 new cases of the virus announced Tuesday, 44 are from Sunday and 41 were reported on both Monday and Tuesday.
Of all the new cases, 21 are close contacts of confirmed cases, six were community acquired and 99 are still being investigated.
Nineteen people are in hospital, including five in ICU.
There are seven ongoing outbreaks, including one at the Southwest Detention Centre and another Victoria Manor.
Five workplaces have active outbreaks:
Two in Kingsville's agriculture sector.
One in Essex's manufacturing sector.
One in Windsor's manufacturing sector.
One in Lakeshore's manufacturing sector.
COVID-19 in Sarnia and Chatham-Kent
Chatham-Kent Public Health said two more deaths have occurred due to COVID-19, bringing the municipality's total to 12 since the pandemic began. The health unit reported four new cases on Tuesday, and there are 71 active in total.
In Lambton County, which has opened vaccine pre-registration for essential workers, the health unit reported a decrease of three COVID-19 cases due to adjustment of data involving previously confirmed cases that were out of the jurisdiction or did not meet the definitions.
There were seven cases reported on April 5, and 51 people have died from COVID-19 in Lambton County.