The Simcoe-Muskoka region would benefit from a few more control measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, according to the local medical officer of health.
In fact, Dr. Charles Gardner issued an order today to restrict visiting at long-term care homes, an authority he has as the medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
Gardner said he was “ready to go” with the order about three weeks ago, but it seemed the growth of the virus in the region might have been plateauing.
After 75 new cases over the weekend – the highest for the region so far – Gardner decided he would issue the order.
“My main concern is the trajectory and where it’s headed,” he said.
The health unit has reported more than 100 new cases since Friday.
For that reason, the doctor has also informed the province the Simcoe-Muskoka region should be placed in the yellow “protect” category when the new provincial framework for “keeping Ontario safe and open” is finalized on Saturday.
Premier Doug Ford announced the new framework proposal today, which sets out five colour-coded classifications or health units across the province. They go from green “prevent,” to yellow “protect,” to orange “restrict,” to red “control,” and ultimately to lockdown.
Depending on the epidemiology of the virus in each health unit, they can be placed in different classifications, each of which come with tighter public health measures. Green is current Stage 3 and lockdown is current Stage 1.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has its own monitoring dashboard where it uses similar metrics to measure the ability of the region’s health-care system and public health to manage COVID-19.
Currently, the health unit has deemed the region is in the yellow zone with virus spread, while containment and laboratory testing are in the red zone. Nearly every indicator measured by the health unit is trending away from “good.”
Based on today's proposal, Simcoe-Muskoka is included in the province’s green category with standard measures. However, Gardner argues the local data puts the region in the yellow zone because of a high weekly incidence rate (24 cases per 100,000 people last week), a reproduction rate over 1 (currently 1.3), and increasing outbreak trends (there are 14 outbreaks being monitored by the health unit currently).
Additionally, there is low available capacity at area hospitals, and the health unit is still struggling to reach all confirmed cases and contacts within 24 hours.
“When I look at the data indicators, in my opinion, we could actually belong in yellow and I’ve communicated this to the province already,” Gardner said Tuesday. “The control measures in place for yellow would suit us well in Simcoe-Muskoka.”
Some of the control measures for health units in the yellow zone include limited operating hours (must close at midnight and stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m.) for bars, and restaurants and limiting indoor dining seating to six people per table. Other measures proposed would limit the number of people allowed inside a recreation facility to 10 people per room (25 outdoors).
Such a change could impact winter recreation programs, such as skating, hockey, and curling.
Gardner said he would like to look at the provincial plan more in-depth in consultation with staff and the chief administrative officers of the municipalities in the region before committing to further restrictions on things like recreation facilities.
He said he didn’t know where the health unit would fall once the province releases the finalized framework on Saturday or what it would mean for further restrictions in the area.
The provincial framework also includes an orange zone called “restrict” with “intermediate measures” a red zone called control with more stringent measures (similar to the current Stage 2 measures) and a “lockdown” zone, which would be similar to the current Stage 1 controls.
For full details on the proposed provincial framework, which is slated to be finalized by Saturday, click here.