COVID cases continue to rise in the region

Natali Trivuncic
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Rainy River District continues to see a rise in COVID-19 cases. The Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) announced 20 new cases over the weekend – 18 for the Rainy River region. The total of active cases in the district to 14. Since March, there have been a total of 206 confirmed cases in the region.

Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the NWHU, said the increase in cases in the Kenora region and the Rainy River District affect multiple communities and all residents need to be aware of the increased risk.

Young Hoon adds that it is important that those with symptoms get tested because the earlier that the NWHU receives positive results, the faster households and close contacts can go into isolation to limit the spread.

“Timeliness is very important because cases are infectious for 48 hours before their symptoms start,” Young Hoon said. “Therefore, if a case takes a long time to get tested, then we might miss that window of opportunity to get close contacts isolated and ensure that they do not infect others during their asymptomatic period.”

It was announced on Thursday that the lockdown in the north will be extended for two more weeks ending on Jan.23, while schools are set to reopen on Monday.

Young Hoon said that schools are generally settings with low transmission rates. Due to the increase in cases, several schools in the region have had remote learning extended two more weeks, through others, including Rainy River High School, re-opened today as planned. She adds that the NWHU will continue to work with schools to ensure prevention measures continue to be followed.

Staff and students are also asked to be extra vigilant with public health measures, which means encouraging social distancing, wearing masks and good hand hygiene.

“We encourage anyone who was ill over the holidays with COVID-like symptoms and did not get tested to self-isolate and get tested as soon as possible,” Young Hoon said. “If they’re choosing not to get tested, they need to self-isolate for 10 days from symptom onset before returning to school.”

Young Hoon also said she encourages parents to use the daily school screening tool for their children each morning found on the province of Ontario’s website, to keep schools safe and open.

While there is still no word on when the vaccine will be coming to the Rainy River District and the surrounding areas, the first doses of the second approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were administered at the William A. George Extended Care Facility in Sioux Lookout on Thursday.

The vaccine will also be made available to the hospital staff and chronic care patients.

“We’re happy to see that vaccination process happening in Sioux Lookout,” Young Hoon said. “That’s obviously a very vulnerable population and it’s particularly important to ensure that our healthcare workers are vaccinated so that they can help to not only protect themselves but also to continue to provide health care services.”

Young Hoon said the NWHU is continuing to have discussions with the province about release dates, but that the process of bringing the vaccine here is complicated because of production and information trickling down from the different levels of government to the health units.

They are also in conversation with all local stakeholders who they work regularly with as it applies to vaccination programs which includes hospitals, long-term care homes, primary care clinics, primary family health teams, health access centres and other Indigenous health agencies.

Young Hoon said it is important for the region to receive the vaccine as soon as possible and reassures the community that they and the province are working as fast as they can to ensure an organized and safe vaccine rollout when the time comes.

If you are experiencing symptoms of the COVID-19 virus or have questions on how to get tested, call the Assessment Centre. For Fort Frances or Emo, the number is 274-3261 ext. 4913 and for Rainy River ext. 6500.