As Queen's Park announced today that the COVID-19 lockdown will continue in Sudbury and the rest of Northern Ontario, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams said he was told by medical officers of health across the North that the region should be staying in lockdown.
The restrictive measures, which were first announced just before Christmas, began on Boxing Day Dec. 26, 2020 and were to run for 14 days until January 9th.
On Thursday, the province revealed that Northern Ontario's shutdown will continue for an additional 14 days until midnight on January 22, 2021 thereby being aligned with the lockdowns in Southern Ontario.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the idea is to keep more Ontarians at home as much as possible to minimize transmission of the coronavirus and to prevent hospitals from being overcrowded.
"With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe," said Ford in a news release.
"That's why we're extending the remote learning period for students in Southern Ontario and the shutdown period for Northern Ontario, while continuing to provide financial relief for parents through the Support for Learners program as well as electricity rate relief for all time-of-use customers. We have to get the numbers down and today's measures will help us continue to stop the spread of this deadly virus."
The latest plan is to keep Southern Ontario school children out of their schools for an additional two weeks of remote learning. For Northern Ontario secondary and elementary students, many of whom cannot get adequate internet access, the decision was made to allow them to return to classes for in-person learning beginning on Monday January 11.
Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams also told the news briefing Thursday afternoon that the idea of keeping Northern Ontario on lockdown was supported by all Northern health units. He said the decision was supported by the numbers and the concerns expressed by public health agencies.
"We looked at our Northern Ontario data, and as you recall when we announced the lockdown, we were going to consider reviewing Northern Ontario and whether we would consider having them come out of lockdown after two weeks, which would be this weekend," said Williams.
"And as I said our numbers there, where they had a whole bunch in green (zones) now there's only one left in green. And one of their smaller ones is in their second week in the red zone. So their numbers have gone up," Williams continued.
"STAY IN LOCKDOWN"
"We had a teleconference in consultation with the seven Northern medical officers of health and all were adamant; they need to stay in lockdown," said Williams.
So far this week, Public Health Sudbury and District has reported 33 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. This includes three cases on Monday, six news cases on Tuesday, 10 new cases on Wednesday and 14 new cases on Thursday.
On Thursday morning, the province reported there were 3519 new cases in Ontario, the highest daily case count in the province's history. There were also 89 new deaths reported, the highest number of deaths in a single day according to Dr. Williams.
In a separate news release updating the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, the medical officer of health for Public Health Sudbury and Districts, commented that the increase in cases was unfortunate.
"Unsurprisingly yet unfortunately, Sudbury and districts have not been spared from a rise in COVID-19 cases following the holidays. We are once again seeing locally how quickly cases can increase, leading to further spread in our communities and outbreaks in vulnerable settings," Sutcliffe wrote. She added that public health is excited that the new vaccines are gradually being rolled out across the province but said this is no time to slack off on being careful.
"Keeping our numbers low means everyone benefits and we cannot afford to lose ground while waiting for the vaccine. Let’s remember to be kind and continue to offer support, compassion, and patience to each other and ourselves in the year ahead. Here’s to a much healthier 2021!"
Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com