Simcoe Muskoka's medical officer of health says a spike in COVID-19 cases in the region last week is "worrisome" and it may prompt him to ask the province to put the region back into lockdown.
Dr. Charles Gardner, of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), said COVID-19 cases rose 30 per cent in the region last week compared to the previous week. There were 277 new cases reported to the health unit for the week of Feb. 14, an increase from the 210 cases reported for the week of Feb. 7.
Gardner said the region also has a "very large number" of cases of the B117 variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom and is more transmissible than the original novel coronavirus.
A total of 174 cases in the region have tested positive for the B117 variant and another 270 cases have screened positive for variants of concern, according to the health unit's website.
Gardner said the increase in cases, particularly in the Barrie, Ont. area, indicates the pandemic is growing instead of shrinking. He said the numbers suggest the region is going in a different direction from that of the rest of the province.
"I am concerned that if that continues, and we have a rise in these cases of the U.K. variant, that the combination could leads to us having another wave," Gardner told CBC Toronto on Wednesday.
Gardner said he has spoken to Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, about the rising numbers.
"I have provided our epidemiological data and expressed our concerns, as well as my thoughts that it is really the stay-at-home order that is essential."
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said he understands the need for more provincial restrictions.
"You need to act more quickly than you would normally. This variant is different from COVID classic. It's moves faster, so government needs to move faster."
Some variant cases not linked to institutional outbreaks
On Tuesday, Gardner told reporters at a weekly news briefing that the region has increasing case counts of the B117 variant, there is geographic spread and some of the variant cases are not linked to institutional outbreaks.
"Our trajectory overall is not headed in the right direction," he said.
"We need to be prepared to go into a shutdown again in the near future if, in fact, we continue to see this. This something that I think people need to be aware of," he added.
"What we're seeing is probably the beginning of another wave. We need to get on top of it."
Region in province's red-control zone
Simcoe Muskoka is now in the province's red-control zone of the colour-coded framework, but Gardner said people should act as though there is a stay-at-home order in place.
There were 111 new COVID-19 cases reported to the health unit for the current week.
Gardner reported eight new deaths on Tuesday, bringing the region's cumulative total to 187 since the start of the pandemic. Eighty-four per cent of the deaths in the past week were due to institutional outbreaks.
There have been 29 deaths of people with COVID-19 since the beginning of February.
Currently, there are 24 people in hospital, with four in intensive care units.
Gardner said the majority of new cases that have occurred in South Simcoe are in the communities of Barrie, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Innisfil and New Tecumseth.
In Barrie, the weekly incidence rate was 109 new cases per 100,000 population this past week, which is double that of the previous week, mainly due to non-outbreak related transmission, household- and workplace-related cases, he said.
"This is the first increase we've seen in Barrie residents in last three weeks. No other municipality has this incidence rate," he said.
Cases of the B117 variant are clearly rising, he said. From Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, the region had 64 variant of concern cases. In the week of Feb. 7 to Feb. 13, it had 132. And in the week of Feb. 14 to 20, it had 151.
Region has 6 outbreaks of B117 variant
Overall, the region has six outbreaks of the B117 variant and nine institutional outbreaks where people have screened positive for a variant of concern but are awaiting confirmation of the strain.
Roberta Place Long Term Care Home, which was devastated by a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year, has had 87 positive test results of the B117 variant and 22 samples that have tested positive for a variant of concern not yet confirmed to be B117. The outbreak there began on Jan. 8 and was declared over on Feb. 18.
All 129 residents of the home, 106 staff members, five external partners and four essential caregivers tested positive for the virus. A total of 71 residents with COVID-19 died.
The region also has non-institutional outbreaks.:
An apartment complex in Simcoe County has one case of the B117 variant and 15 cases of a variant of concern not yet confirmed to be B117.
A retail location in Simcoe County has two cases of the B117 variant.
An emergency services location in Simcoe County has one case of the B117 variant and one case that has screened positive for a variant of concern not yet confirmed to be B117.
A manufacturing facility in Simcoe County has seven cases that have screened positive for a variant of concern.
An agricultural location in Muskoka has two cases that have screened positive for a variant of concern.
A manufacturing location in Simcoe Country has two cases that have screened positive for a variant of concern.
A food and beverage facility in Muskoka has five cases that have screened positive for a variant of concern.
Ontario could apply new 'emergency brake'
David Jensen, spokesperson for the Ontario health ministry, said in an email on Wednesday that the chief medical officer of health provides advice to the provincial government on "appropriate and effective measures" that can be taken to protect Ontario residents and actions can be taken immediately if need be.
Jensen said local medical officers of health can also issue orders to target specific transmission risks in the community.
"Ontario has introduced an 'emergency brake' where the Chief Medical Officer of Health, in consultation with the local medical officer of health, may advise immediately moving a region into Grey-Lockdown to interrupt transmission," Jensen said.