Grey-Bruce will be back in the yellow “protect” zone after the Family Day long weekend as the province’s stay-at-home order is set to be lifted.
The Grey Bruce Health Unit’s medical officer of health is asking residents to stay engaged and careful when the change comes.
“We all need to be very cautious moving forward. Opening from a lockdown does not mean the pandemic is gone, in fact, it’s the opposite. Now there is a bit more risk so we need to do more,” said Dr. Ian Arra, the Grey Bruce Health Unit’s medical officer of health. “I realize people are tired and fatigued, but we all need to double-down and stay the course, especially in the coming few weeks.”
With new more highly transmissible variants of the COVID-19 virus being found in neighbouring jurisdictions, Arra is concerned the stable situation in Grey-Bruce could change if residents aren’t careful.
None of the variant strains have been detected in Grey-Bruce residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 to date.
“It requires a certain level of concern and engagement from all partners,” Arra said. “It’s adding a variable into this equation and increases the risk.”
A co-chair of the province’s COVID-19 Science Table warned Thursday of a “real threat” posed by the new variants. New modelling unveiled the same day showed that while the shutdown has helped to flatten cases, the spread of more contagious new variants of the virus could undo the progress.
In the worst-case scenario, the experts said that by late March the province could see more than 18,000 cases of the variant a day. In the best-case scenario, the province would see up to 2,000 cases a day. The most likely scenario, according to the experts, was 5,000 to 6,000 cases of the variant per day by the end of March.
In the U.K., the variant known as the B.1.1.7 variant went from detection to the dominant strain as cases more than tripled in a month.
The B.1.1.7 variant has in part caused three outbreaks in the neighbouring Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit including a deadly outbreak at Roberta Place Long-Term Care in Barrie.
Dr. Charles Gardner, the SMDHU medical officer of health said the province should continue its stay-at-home order as “variants of concern” emerge across the province.
Locally, the Grey Bruce Health Unit has employed stricter isolation measures under guidance from the province to combat the potential spread of new variants.
Arra said one concrete example is having families of probable cases now isolate, as well as friends, cohorts and high-risk contacts.
A probable case is a person displaying symptoms of COVID-19 who is a known contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, but has not yet been tested.
“Everybody is asked to isolate as if they are a case . . . that’s way more stringent than what we used before,” Arra said.
Every positive COVID-19 test result in Grey-Bruce and across the province is now sent to a provincially run lab for genotype testing to seek out the new virus strains.
As part of its reopening, the province announced a new legislative mechanism to quickly shut down the virus’ spread they’re calling an “emergency brake”. The new function means an area in a more open zone of the province’s colour-coded reopening framework could be quickly elevated to the grey “lockdown” zone if the need arose.
Arra said he could come up with several examples of when the emergency brake could be applied in Grey-Bruce, but didn’t think it would be used because of “optimal communication” between the local health unit and the provincial chief medical officer of health.
Quick changing variables such as outbreaks and hospital capacity could rapidly change the region’s outlook.
Arra said his preference, if asked, would have been the yellow zone. He said a green-zone region would be more likely to see an influx of nearby travellers from areas in the more restrictive red or lockdown zones.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit to the east and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit to the southeast will reopen in the red zone, while Huron Perth Public Health to the south and west will reopen in the orange zone.
“This is another layer of the journey,” Arra said. “Not the end.”
The Grey Bruce Health Unit reported two new cases of COVID-19 Friday, in Owen Sound and Arran-Elderslie.
There are now 18 active confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region with four probable cases and 187 high-risk contacts being followed by local contact tracers.
One person with COVID-19 remains hospitalized.
To date, 674 Grey-Bruce residents have contracted the virus including 79 health care workers. Of those, 655 cases are now considered resolved. One person has died.
No local long-term care homes, schools or childcare centres in the twin counties are under a declared COVID-19 outbreak.
Public health units throughout Ontario reported a combined 1,076 new cases of COVID-19 Friday.
Eighteen more people with COVID-19 have died.
There are 763 patients in Ontario hospitals including 295 patients in intensive care units and 204 who require a ventilator.