CORNWALL – The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is here and it is being driven by the rapid spread of variants of concern.
Eastern Ontario Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said that two out of every three new cases (67 per cent) detected in the region is a presumed VOC.
Most of the community spread of VOCs have been the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the UK variant. The provincial average is 60 per cent.
“I fell off my chair when I read it,” Roumeliotis said about the numbers reported over the weekend. “This is a worrisome trend.”
Between March 26-29, the EOHU region added 84 new cases, increasing the overall tally since the pandemic began to 3,340. The new cases were evenly spread across three of the four sectors of the health unit. Prescott-Russell added 34 cases, SDG Counties 32, and the City of Cornwall 18. There were no new cases reported in the northern portion of Akwesasne. As of the March 29th EOHU update, there are 332 active cases.
Locally, South Dundas had eight new cases reported over the weekend, bumping up the municipal tally to 69 cases overall, 24 are active cases.
North Dundas added seven new cases, South Stormont 10, North Stormont two, South Glengarry six, and North Glengarry seven.
Outbreaks have been declared in two schools in Dundas County. Morrisburg Public School was declared in outbreak on March 25th after two cases were detected that had an epidemiolgical link showing spread within the school.
St. Mary Catholic School in Chesterville has five cases with an established epidemilogical link. In all, 15 schools have reported 24 students and three staff with cases.
According to Ontario’s Ministry of Health reporting, there are two daycares with reported cases: one case at the Happy Face day care in Morrisburg; and two at the Learning Centre in Long Sault.
There are 10 facility outbreaks in the region, most are staff-only. One outbreak is under investigation.
Hawkesbury and District General Hospital has a reported outbreak in a ward. Late last week, the hospital reported that five patients had died. It was later revealed that Dr. Brian Nadler, 35, was charged with first-degree murder in relation to one of the COVID-19 deaths. Police are now investigating the other deaths at the hospital.
Regarding the cases at HDGH, Roumeliotis said it was a police matter and he could not comment.
COVID-19 trends in the EOHU region are going up. Key indicators like the reproductive rate (1.29), test positivitiy (1.77 per cent), Intensive Care Unit occupancy (87 per cent) and COVID-19 ICU occupancy (20 per cent) are all increasing.
The rolling seven-day average of new infections per 100,000 people was 86.5, nearing the levels that would move the region from Red-Control level COVID-19 restrictions to the Grey-Lockdown level.
When asked by The Leader if the region would move to Grey and what it would take, Roumeliotis said that the key indicator numbers are moving that way now.
“Our hospitals are pretty full, but not overwhelmed,” he said adding that the amount of contact tracing required is currently overwhelming. “We’ve been overwhelmed with the contact tracing numbers.”
Roumeliotis said that there were “hundreds of cases” that the EOHU has had to follow up on with its enhanced approach.
He explained that he will be meeting with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, this week to look at the trends.
“And see when it is appropriate to go to Grey zone, or if we are seeing numbers stabilize and go downwards.”
Vaccinations have been expanded to include people age 75 and older. When asked why vaccinations were not expanded in the EOHU region to those 70 and older, Roumeliotis said that the region’s clinics were already booked and they would be expanding to offer vaccinations in this early Phase 2 stage soon.
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. To date, 22,333 doses of vaccine, mostly Pfizer-BioNTech have been given in the EOHU region.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader