TORONTO/CORNWALL – Changing course one week after the province's COVID-19 framework was put into place, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit region will move to the Orange-Restrict level at 12:01 a.m. Monday (November 16th).
The move is in response to record levels of COVID-19 infection and a re-definition of thresholds used to determine what level of restrictions should be in place for each region.
For the last week the EOHU region, which includes the City of Cornwall, SDG Counties, Prescott-Russell, and the Canadian portion of Akwesasne, has been at the Yellow-Protect level.
"We must do whatever it takes to slow the spread of this virus," said Ontario Premier Doug Ford as he made the announcement of changes to the COVID-19 framework today (November 13th). "We must do whatever it takes to prevent our hospitals from being overrun."
Since the Thanksgiving long weekend in October, Coronavirus infections have spiked over 1,000 cases per day. Yesterday (November 12th) the province saw a new record of 1,575 cases reported, most of those are from the Greater Toronto Area.
"We're starring down the barrel of another lock down," said Ford. "And I will not hesitate for a second if we have to go further because our number one priority right now, is getting these numbers down."
High infection areas around the GTA – including York, Hamilton, and Halton Regions – will move into the Red-Control part of the COVID-19 framework on Monday.
The EOHU will move into Orange, matching the public health guidance of the City of Ottawa. The neighbouring Leeds-Grenville-Lanark areas will remain in Green, and is unchanged from the former Stage Three re-opening plan framework launched this past summer.
As the region moves into Orange the Medical Officer of Health for the local health unit, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, said the lowering numbers here are encouraging.
"Our numbers are going in the right way," he said. "We're starting to flatten out here."
Roumelitois said that the region's seven day rolling average, one of the key indicators used to determine which level a region is at, is also going down. He said that even though most of the key indicators fall under the new parameters for the Yellow level measures, because the number of infections per 100,000 people was near 40, the provincial government will still move the EOHU into Orange.
"I hope we can go back to Yellow in a week," he said. "This was not my call."
Responding to a question from Cornwall Newswatch, Roumeliotis said he was a bit frustrated with being placed in Orange-Restrict.
"I expressed that with the ministry today," he said. "Our real numbers tell us we are in a downward trend, we're Yellow not Orange. If you look at all the parameters, really, we tick off all the boxes for yellow except one."
Roumeliotis said that if the numbers were looked at today, the region would remain in the Yellow-Protect guidance.
"[The government] made the decision on [November 9th], standardized it across the province, and they were happy that our trends were going down," he explained.
Roumeliotis said that COVID-19 numbers are evaluated weekly under the framework and if the trends remain downward, the region should move back to Yellow soon.
"Maybe next week," he said.
So what do the Orange-Restrict guidelines look like for the region?
Restaurant seating will move from no more than six people per table to four people per table. Restaurants and bars can only serve alcohol between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and must close by 10 p.m. Takeout and delivery options are allowed later than 10 p.m.
Personal care services that require the removal of a face mask are not allowed under the Orange-Restrict guidance.
Sports venues like arenas are not allowed spectators unless for parent supervision. Roumeliotis clarified that under the Orange-Restrict guidelines, the only change to local hockey arenas is that it is 50 people per the entire facility. As most arenas in the region are single-pad facilities, this will not change anything.
A full list of all the restrictions under the Orange-Restrict provincial framework is available here.
Locally as of November 13th, there are 151 active cases of COVID-19 in the EOHU region, there have been 744 cases since the pandemic began. Twenty-seven people have died from COVID-19 in the region, all at long-term care homes.
South Dundas has had fewer than five cases overall, none of which are currently active.
There are currently six people hospitalized from the virus, none of whom are in intensive care units. There are five outbreaks currently in long-term care homes, and two in schools. None of which are in Dundas County. The two outbreaks in schools are at Eamers Corners Public School and L'Héritage, both in Cornwall.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader