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Nearly 150 area COVID cases reported in January linked to gatherings

Region's medical officer of health says enforcement key to success of province's stay-at-home order
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Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, delivers a weekly update on Dec. 8. Screen capture

Almost one-quarter of the COVID-19 cases confirmed in the Simcoe-Muskoka region this month have been traced to social gatherings ranging in size from two to 22 people. 

Since Dec. 31, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has reported 715 new COVID cases in Simcoe County and Muskoka District. 

“This really speaks to how much we need people to avoid gatherings,” said local medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner. “This is a major means by which transmission happens.” 

Since the province declared a state of emergency in Ontario and issued a stay-at-home order Tuesday afternoon, Gardner’s urging to the public is now also an enforceable order. 

Effective Thursday, everyone in the province must stay at home unless going outside for essential purposes including grocery or pharmacy shopping, accessing health-care services, or for exercise or work. Work must be done remotely where possible. 

“Enforcement is going to be a really important part of this,” Gardner said during a public live stream and media briefing briefing shortly after the stay-at-home order was announced. 

The doctor said he wanted to look further into the regulations before providing detailed comments on it. But he said if the order is enforced, it would have “a good effect.” 

“It probably doesn’t take a lot of enforcement for everybody to realize that we mean it, and therefore they need to abide by it,” said Gardner. “I believe if, in fact, most people abide by this, it would have the desired effect" of flattening the curve.

The health unit would be one of a few authorities responsible for enforcing the order, a task Gardner said is not easy. 

“We’re very stretched as an agency,” said Gardner, noting staff are working on case and contact management of record-high numbers of cases, running the roll out of the vaccine and administering COVID vaccines at long-term care facilities, and also doing enforcement of existing provincial and health unit orders.

“Fortunately, this is an across-the-board effort involving the police, bylaw, and enforcers with the ministry of labour. We’re going to need all of that capacity," he added. 

Another deterrent Gardner hopes to implement this week includes publicly posting information about charges laid in the region. 

The doctor said the health unit is working on publishing and updating a list of charges and orders issued by health unit enforcement staff. 

“It’s for two reasons: one, because there’s intense public interest,” said Gardner. “And it might act as a deterrent for businesses and venues.”

The doctor said he would be studying the regulations issued by the province in more detail to better understand what the health unit would be enforcing. 

You can visit the health unit website for up-to-date case information and local restrictions.