Region's medical officer of health warns relaxed orders could be temporary

·3 min read

Simcoe-Muskoka’s medical officer of health warns residents not to let their guard — and precautions — down with the number of COVID-19 cases dropping locally.

Given the rapid spread of the UK variant in this area, Dr. Charles Gardner said he expects there could be a third wave and another shutdown.

Gardner reported Tuesday that the weekly incidence of cases has dropped for a third consecutive week in the Simcoe-Muskoka region.

But the number of cases testing positive for a variant — which tend to be deadly and more transmissible — continues to grow and he expects it could be in the range of approximately 500 people in this region when including COVID-19 positive cases that are associated with outbreaks identified to be linked to a variant.

Most of those have recovered, but new exposure locations involving the variant continue to develop. There are now more than 50 people with positive screening results that are not linked to any outbreak.

“That’s a concern to me,” Gardner said. “To me, it’s really important that people abide by the stay-at-home approach.”

The provincial government relaxed restrictions and dropped the stay-at-home order as of this week.

But Gardner repeated his concern: he thinks the province was taking a risk by lifting the stay-at-home order and he would have preferred it remain in place. Reducing interaction in the community reduces the potential for transmissions in the community, he said.

Pointing to provincial modelling showing variants will become more prevalent fairly quickly, as soon as March, Gardner said anticipates the number of infections could grow. That could lead to a resurgence of new cases and yet another wave.

“I would advise the province that they be fully prepared to put back in place the stay-at-home order and a shutdown beyond a third wave, if not sooner,” he said.

During a weekly media briefing Tuesday, Gardner said the number of infections began dropping during the recent six-week shutdown.

“We’ve got a reduction in Barrie, so now it’s down to 48 cases per 100,000 population per week, which is one-third lower than the previous week,” Gardner said. “We have no municipalities in Simcoe-Muskoka now with more than 100 cases for 100,000 population for a week.”

That includes a drop in outbreaks to 22 from 25 a week ago.

That downward trend is also reflected on the national and provincial levels.

But testing for the easily transmissible variants indicates it is in the community, with 153 cases testing positive for the B.1.1.7 UK variant and 131 cases have screened positive for a variant. Muskoka District has also reported its first confirmation of the variant. He expects that there are even more cases, tied to local outbreaks.

“We have augmented our approach now, with case and contact management because of the new variant. We’ve gone back to following up with all contacts of the cases ourselves,” said Gardner.

Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com