EOHU region to move to Red-Restrict level Monday

·7 min read

CORNWALL – The Eastern Ontario Health Unit region will move to the Red-Restrict level on March 29th.

EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis confirmed the province will move the region to the stricter level of COVID-19 restrictions during his media availability earlier Thursday.

"We continue to see increases in our area," Roumeliotis said. "We are way up in the Red zone. So unfortunately we are going to be going into the Red. There is no doubt about it. I am just hoping we can quickly start recovering and go back to the Orange."

The doctor confirmed earlier this week he was recommending the status change to Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams. The province has yet to officially announce the move to Red. That announcement is expected Friday.

The changes will go into effect on Monday.

When asked by The Leader why he was not moving the region into Red sooner, he replied that he wanted to give the residents more notification for it.

Roumeliotis said that when factoring in the rise of suspected COVID-19 variants of concern, which now make up 46 per cent of all active cases in the region, that this is a third wave of the pandemic.

"I think we are," he said. "I see [cases] going up slower but if you separate and just look at the [variants of concern] on its own, yes. The VOCs on its own is causing its own wave."

A move to Red-Restrict this time will be different than previous moves. Ontario recently updated its restrictions on restaurants and non-essential retail.

Indoor gatherings in a private residence are limited to five people, outdoors is 25 people.

Indoor dining is restricted to 50 people or 50 per cent of capacity, whichever number is smaller. Only people from the same household can dine together. Outdoor dining at patios is allowed but again only members of the same household can dine together.

Supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies are limited to 75 per cent of normal capacity. Big box retailers, hardware stores, and non-essential retail including garden centres are limited to 50 per cent of normal capacity.

Recreation and sports facilities will be limited to 10 people in an indoor area. No team sports are allowed except for training. Close contact sports are not allowed, and people using facilities are only allowed to stay for up to 90 minutes.

Personal care services are allowed to remain open, but services that require face coverings to be removed are not allowed.

South Dundas has 22 active cases, and the total case count has increased to 61.

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.

St. Mary-St. Cecilia Catholic School in Morrisburg hosted a voluntary COVID-19 testing clinic last Saturday (March 20th) for staff and students of the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario.

Seaway District High School and North Dundas District High School will host asymptomatic testing clinics for staff and students of those schools, and associated elementary feeder schools, this coming Saturday (March 27th). The Upper Canada District School Board issued a notice to parents earlier this week about the testing.

The voluntary clinics are for staff and student testing only. Parents and other family members are not eligible for the testing at these clinics. Testing includes students and staff of Iroquois Public School and Morrisburg Public School in South Dundas, and Winchester, Chesterville, and Nationview Public Schools in North Dundas.

The testing is conducted by a third-party company and is part of a province-wide initiative by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education.

The health unit is adopting an “all hands on deck” approach to contact tracing due to the increased cases across the region, shuttering many of its non-COVID-19 related services.

Roumeliotis, responding to a question from The Leader, said that school nurses hired by the EOHU are still working in schools, and that the health unit is still conducting some restaurant health and safety inspections.

He appealed to the public for civility when and if they receive a contact tracing call.

“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 29 new cases in the past 24 hours. Cornwall has the highest active case count with 95 people. South Stormont has 23 cases, North Dundas has 30. Active cases in North Dundas spiked by 20 people since Monday.

There are eight facility outbreaks in the region, most are staff-only. There are no outbreaks declared in schools in the region.

The region’s reproductive number for COVID-19 is at 1.5, which has contributed to the move to Red-Restrict. The rolling seven day average of new infections stood as, of March 25th, at 78.3, placing the region firmly in the Red-Restrict level. Test positivity for the region was 2.8 per cent on Thursday.

Thirty people are hospitalized, six are in intensive care units. The health unit has the region's death toll at 69 however the Glengarry News reported earlier Thursday that five people have died at the Hawkesbury General Hospital. That facility has a ward in outbreak, all of which are presumed to be the UK variant of concern.

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, 21,240 doses of vaccine, mostly Pfizer-BioNTech have been given in the EOHU region.

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader