Province tightens COVID-19 restrictions in Haldimand-Norfolk as cases climb

·3 min read

The province tightened COVID-19 rules in Haldimand-Norfolk on Monday, with the local health unit expecting even more restrictions if the situation worsens.

With the region adding 57 positive cases in the past two weeks and managing outbreaks at a Simcoe farm and Dunnville long-term care home, the Ford government moved Haldimand-Norfolk into the orange restrict category of the province’s COVID-19 response framework.

That means limited operating hours and seating capacity at bars and restaurants, additional physical-distancing requirements inside fitness centres, and an end to personal services that require the removal of face masks, such as beard trimming at hair salons.

Gathering limits of 10 people indoors and 25 outside are unchanged.

Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Haldimad-Norfolk’s medical officer of health, says he hopes the new rules help slow the advance of COVID-19 in the two counties.

“I’m hopeful that with more public health measures, we’ll be able to stabilize the number of cases,” he said. “But it would not surprise me that the case counts continue to climb (and) we may have further restrictions over the next few weeks.”

There are currently 48 active positive cases between the two counties, when as recently as early October the active caseload was in the single digits and days would pass without a new diagnosis of the disease.

The health unit traced some of the new cases to households visiting and eating together inside, which Nesathurai said is an especially high-risk activity for transmitting the virus.

“In this health district, we have seen clusters of cases associated with family members dining with (people) from other households. That is one of the concerns,” he said.

Having people who don’t live together spending extended time in close quarters without wearing masks is “one of the concerns” as the holidays near, he added.

“That leads to clusters and cases, and more people disqualified from going to work and going to school,” Nesathurai said. “This is part of the broader advice to stay within your families and try to avoid gatherings (with) individuals from other households.”

In moving Haldimand-Norfolk to the orange level, the province considered the region’s limited number of ICU beds and proximity to COVID-19 hot spots like Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area.

Since the pandemic began, Haldimand-Norfolk has seen 658 lab-confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, with 573 recoveries and 32 deaths. Five people who had COVID-19 died of other causes.

To this point, the health unit has been able to trace contacts of infected residents within 24 hours, which Nesathurai called a “cornerstone” of his approach to containing the spread of the virus.

“At some point, if we don’t get control of our case count, we’ll be saturating our public health resources related to doing contact management,” Nesathurai said. “I just worry that we won’t be able to sustain this level of demand on the public health service.”

The board of health agreed to hire 17 new staff to help the beleaguered health unit manage the pandemic, but Nesathurai said other programs like postpartum support and smoking cessation are currently sidelined due to a lack of staffing.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator