The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is currently managing 10 COVID-19 outbreaks, with the medical officer of health warning that more cases linked to holiday gatherings are likely.
“We continue to be embroiled in this pandemic,” said Dr. Shanker Nesathurai on Monday, noting there are 135 active cases between the two counties.
Positive test results had been doubling every month and January does not promise a slowdown, with 44 new cases reported over the weekend to push the total since the pandemic began to 987.
“We’re seeing many cases in the community as well as cases related to outbreaks, so that makes me quite concerned,” Nesathurai said.
The active outbreaks include three farms, three group homes and four long-term care facilities.
A positive test at Schuyler Farms in Simcoe just before Christmas sent the affected migrant worker and their housemates into self-isolation, extending an outbreak that at its height in November saw 13 workers infected, though none reported serious symptoms.
One migrant worker at Pereira Farms, a tobacco grower in Windham Centre, recently tested positive, while Proplant Propagation Services announced on Jan. 1 that 25 migrant workers at the Jarvis greenhouse had come down with the disease.
Proplant owner Mike Berkel told The Spectator on Monday that the affected workers — who represent “a good chunk” of his workforce — have been in self-isolation since Dec. 24 and are feeling well.
A “handful” of workers initially reported mild symptoms, and no one from Proplant has been hospitalized.
“It’s a controlled outbreak,” said Berkel, who got his workers into individual hotel rooms on Christmas Eve to wait out their self-isolation period.
“I think the health unit made the right decision to isolate them,” Berkel said. “At the end of the day, I feel this outbreak was minimized because of some quick action before Christmas.”
Long-term care homes continue to be a source of infection. On Monday, the health unit declared an outbreak after a resident and staff member at Cedarwood Village in Simcoe tested positive. Outbreaks were also recently declared at Edgewater Gardens Long-Term Care Centre in Dunnville and a Norfolk Association of Community Living group home after one staff member at each workplace contracted the virus.
Nesathurai said the virus is “particularly likely” to spread among people who wash, eat, work or sleep in close quarters.
“One good cough can be enough to transmit COVID-19,” he said.
Three Haldimand-Norfolk residents have died of the virus since Dec. 12, bringing the total number of COVID-related deaths to 35. The latest victims were living in the community prior to their deaths.
Nesathurai said he expects “at least a small group of people” in Haldimand-Norfolk will be vaccinated sometime this month, but the province’s rollout plan remains a work in progress.
“The details are still being worked out,” Nesathurai said. “We hope to have more fulsome vaccination over the next six months.”
Haldimand-Norfolk’s top doctor is concerned that another wave of cases is coming after some residents ignored his advice to not gather with people outside of their households over the holidays.
“That is one significant vector of transmission of COVID-19,” Nesathurai said, reiterating his advice to stay at home as much as possible “to bring our numbers under control.”
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator