It appears support for creating a bubble to protect Northern Ontario from COVID-19 is growing in Sudbury.
"Now that the virulent UK virus has shown how fast it moves, we need to keep it out of the North," Jim Gordon, a former Sudbury mayor and MPP, said in a release Monday. "We have a higher proportion of seniors and more Indigenous people than the rest of the province. These people need a higher standard of protection.
"The North has always been separate from the rest of Ontario," Gordon said. "We sometimes complain about it: fewer roads, fewer flights, greater distances. We are a natural bubble. Reinforcing that is not difficult.
"Northerners and Sudburians have kept COVID numbers down by following the rules. Travel is the primary way the virus moves. We need the means to stop social travel into and out of the North. Give us the tool."
Gordon will talk about the bubble today during a Zoom call this morning with reporters.
Brian Bigger, Sudbury's current mayor, also called for the creation of the Northern Ontario bubble on Monday.
Bigger issued a statement expressing his condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives to COVID-19 this past weekend.
Public Health Sudbury & Districts reported two new deaths in residents of the Finlandiakoti apartment building of Finlandia Village and Amberwood Suites on Jan. 30 and 31, respectively.
In his statement, Bigger also expressed his support for creating a “northern bubble,” stating that he is reaching out to the province this week to explore options for reducing travel to and from the region.
“This past weekend has served as another difficult reminder of just how dangerous and deadline the COVID-19 virus is,” said Bigger.
“We are just a few weeks away from the anniversary of our first case appearing in Greater Sudbury. I would like to reinforce my earlier directions about keeping our community safe.”
Bigger went on to say that the surge in cases we’ve seen so far this year have been mostly attributed to travel.
He noted that a COVID-19 variant has appeared in Barrie, which is “far too close to home for any of us to rest easy or make poor choices.”
“Now more than ever, our health, the sustainability of our local economy, our education and healthcare systems are relying on vigilance and the assurance that we as a community will contain this second wave and prevent further spread,” he said.
“I am asking again – stay at home. Do not travel unless absolutely necessary, and if you must, make as few stops as possible.”
Bigger also discouraged visitors to the region, stating that now is not the time for casual tourism.
“There has been talk of a northern bubble, of checkpoints, of the OPP monitoring travel. Quebec implemented such checkpoints as far back as October to stem traffic between regions,” he said.
“It was a visible deterrent and it dissuaded travel. I will be reaching out to the province again this week to request an action plan that will either stop or stymie traffic flow up Hwy 69 unless absolutely necessary and expedite the flow of vaccines to us up here.”
He added that the concept of a checkpoint is “not unrealistic,” and it has been proven to be an effective tool.
“We are in the middle of winter and at a crossroads in this pandemic. To remain safe, we need to insulate our city for a short amount of time and by any means necessary stop the spread of the COVID-19 variant that is creeping north.”
Bigger said he will reach out to the province this week and seek support from local leaders and authorities to “find a way to make this happen.”
“It may be an inconvenience to some, but worth it if it saves lives and helps our community get closer to safely reopening,” he said.
“Also, please take the province’s orders very seriously and do everything you can. It is extremely vital that we stay at home to reduce community spread.”
Public Health, meanwhile, reported one new case of COVID-19 in Greater Sudbury on Monday.
Six more cases in the health unit’s service area have been resolved, and no new deaths have been reported. The total number of active cases in the region is down to 81.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the health unit has reported 520 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their service area.
Of this number, 272 have been close contacts of a confirmed case, 115 have been outbreak-associated, 48 have been travel-related, and 81 have no know epidemiological link.
Information about the probable exposure status of four cases is listed as pending or missing on the health unit’s website.
Greater Sudbury has seen 478 positive cases, with a total of 18 being reported in the Sudbury district and 24 in the Manitoulin district.
There are currently nine outbreaks in institutional settings in the region, including Chartwell Southwind Retirement Residence, St. Charles College, and Summit Human Services group home.
The health unit also confirmed a positive case of COVID-19 at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School on Sunday.
Two classes, CHW 3MO-01 – Ancient History Grade 11 and PAL 3OP-01 – Basketball Class Grade 11, have been asked to self-isolate to and including Feb. 11.
Students on the morning secondary run on Route L880 as well as the afternoon secondary run on Route L811 have also been asked to self-isolate.
The affected students, parents/guardians and staff have been notified. Arrangements will be made for the affected students to write their exams remotely.
For more information about COVID-19, visit www.phsd.ca/COVID-19 or call the health unit at 705-522-9200 ext. 524.
Lo-Ellen does remain open for in-person learning.
“We are implementing enhanced cleaning and disinfecting before school begins on Monday,” the Rainbow District School Board said in a letter to parents.
“Public Health will directly contact all parents/guardians of students and all school personnel who have been identified as close contacts.”
Students who are asked to stay home but who are not contacted directly by Public Health must isolate until Feb. 11, and they should seek COVID-19 testing as soon as possible.
The school board reminds parents/guardians that simply passing by an infected person in the hallway is not considered close contact and the risk of spreading the virus this way is extremely low.
Those who have not been affected by the above cancellations should continue to screen themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19 and continue to follow ongoing COVID-19 prevention measures, such as washing your hands often with soap and water and practicing physical distancing.
“We continue to work closely with Public Health as we implement ongoing health and safety protocols to limit the spread of COVID-19,” said the school board.
Olga Roman made a bit of history, becoming the first resident of St. Joseph’s Villa in Sudbury to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. In all, 55 residents at St. Joseph’s Villa received the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday. The vaccine comes in two doses. Staff hopes that all residents will be inoculated by the end of the week.
Health Sciences North (HSN) has confirmed that a staff member at the hospital has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Len Gillis, Local journalism initiative reporter, with Sudbury.com. This is believed to be the second confirmed case of COVID among an HSN staff member since the pandemic began.
Another senior in Sudbury has died as a result of COVID-19. Public Health said Sunday the individual was a resident of Amberwood Suites retirement home, where 40 people — 34 residents and six staff — caught the virus after an outbreak was declared in early January. The latest fatality marks the sixth elderly person to die in relation to the Amberwood outbreak.
The death is the ninth to occur in the PHSD service area since the pandemic began. Two occurred during the first wave; the remaining seven have all been within the last three weeks. It is also the second death to be reported in as many days, as the health unit announced Saturday that a resident of the Finlandiakoti apartment building of Finlandia Village had passed away as the result of an outbreak that was declared at the facility on Jan. 21.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star