CORNWALL – A spike in new COVID-19 infections has the Eastern Ontario Health Unit warning of further restrictions in the region. All while the health unit continues to get people vaccinated.
South Dundas now has the second highest number of active cases in the region. As of the health unit’s March 22nd update there are 22 active cases in the municipality, an increase of 10 over the weekend.
EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said that a majority of the South Dundas cases were attributed to household contacts, but there was at least one outdoor gathering event involved as well.
“There were a couple that were outdoor social gatherings,” the doctor said. “It just shows that even sometimes in close gatherings outdoors you can get it.”
Recent asymptomatic testing of students at a South Dundas elementary school has not had any impact on local numbers so far Roumeliotis said.
With the increased cases in the region, the health unit is adopting an “all hands on deck” approach to contact tracing. The EOHU has temporarily shuttered many of its non-COVID-19 related services to deal with contact tracing and vaccinations. But Roumeliotis told reporters on Monday that contact tracers have been experiencing issues when doing their job.
“We recognize that people are frustrated,” he said. “Our staff who have been contact tracing have been yelled at, screamed at, had abusive language, swearing and so on. Our staff at some times have been literally in tears because they have been so rudely spoken to, hung up on, abused. The civility is gone.”
Roumeliotis said the problem isn’t just in Eastern Ontario, that public health units across the province have experienced many of the same issues.
“I’m pleading with people,” he said. “[Contact tracers] are trying to protect everybody, they’re doing their job. They want to follow up. If you are positive or if your family is positive they want to make sure that we protect everybody else around our community. They are just doing their job, trying to protect us.”
Roumeliotis asked residents to be a bit more polite to staff if they call.
While local numbers in South Dundas increased, so to did numbers elsewhere in SDG Counties and the City of Cornwall.
The region added 77 new cases between March 19-22. Cornwall has the highest active case count with 93 people. South Stormont has 19 cases, North Dundas has 10.
There are eight facility outbreaks in the region, most are staff-only. Roumeliotis reported that there are 30 positive cases accross 25 schools in the health unit region, and three cases in daycares – no outbreaks have been declared.
The region’s reproductive number for COVID-19 is at 1.14, and the rolling seven day average of new infections stood as of March 22nd at 63.7, placing the region firmly in the Red-Restrict level. Roumeliotis confirmed to The Leader that he is recommending the region move from its current Orange status to Red.
Twenty-seven people are hospitalized, six are in intensive care units, factors that also contribute to a move to Red.
Vaccinations are continuing in the region with more supply arriving consistently each week.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced March 19th that province-wide vaccinations of people age 75 and older would begin booking on March 22nd. Until then, people age 80 and older could book online or by phone for a vaccination appointment.
The province did report that booking services online and by phone on Monday did have issues. Some vaccination clinic locations in the EOHU region were missing but Roumeliotis said that staff spent all day Monday working with the province to fix that issue.
The EOHU is running six appointment-only vaccination clinics including at the Joel Steele Arena in Winchester. Other sites in the region include in Cornwall, Alexandria, and Rockland. As vaccinations continue into Phase Two, more sites will be opened. Roumeliotis said that pharmacies and doctor’s offices are also in the plan once supply allows and the province opens up AstraZeneca vaccinations outside of its pilot-project regions.
All residents of long-term care homes and retirement homes have received both doses of vaccine.
To date, 19,443 doses of vaccine, mostly Pfizer-BioNTech have been given in the EOHU region. Nearly 4.2 million doses of vaccine have been administered in Canada since the first vaccines were approved in December 2020.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader