NWHU keeps an eye on Thunder Bay as cases decline in the region

By Natali Trivuncic
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As COVID-19 numbers decline in the region, cases in Thunder Bay continue to rise, risking the spread of the virus. Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), said they are monitoring the situation closely and looking at ways to keep the homeless population in the NWHU catchment area safe.

“There are things such as case and contact management, reaching out to that population, making sure they’re supported whether they need masks, education or information,” Young Hoon said. “Vaccinations could be part of ensuring the spread of COVID-19 does not occur in a very vulnerable population.

Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU) declared an outbreak of COVID-19 on Feb. 10 among individuals who are experiencing homelessness and under-housing. The region is now in the Grey-Lockdown level of the Province’s COVID-19 Response Framework.

Young Hoon adds that based on experiences in Thunder Bay and other communities, preventing the spread of COVID-19 in a homeless population, protects the entire community.

“There are individuals where it’s very challenging for them to self-isolate, so this would be an important way of preventing spread in that community.”

One new case in Sioux Lookout was reported yesterday. There are currently 41 active cases in the region, 27 in the Kenora region and 14 in the Sioux Lookout region.

During the week of Feb. 22 to Feb. 28, the region had 44 new confirmed cases. This included 28 in the Kenora area, 14 in the Sioux Lookout area, one in the Rainy River area and one in the Fort Frances area.

No new hospitalizations occurred and there are currently two people in the region hospitalized because of COVID-19.

Of the 44 new cases, 13 were related to an outbreak, 15 were close contacts of previous cases and three were linked to travel. The source of exposure remains unknown for 13 of the new cases at this time.

Young Hoon said through the NWHU’s investigation, they identified 102 people who had high risk close contact with cases.

Young Hoon said although cases in Kenora are decreasing, they are continuing to monitor the situation closely to see exactly where these cases are coming from.

“To prevent the spread to our region, we must remain vigilant with prevention measures. COVID-19 cannot spread unless we give it a chance to,” Young Hoon said. “As a strengthened measure, the province is now requiring household members of anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home until COVID-19 test results are known. These prevention measures may seem extreme but they are a way to prevent widespread transmission of the virus, especially with the emergence of variants of concern.”

At this time, the NWHU advises against any non-essential travel, especially to areas with a higher risk like Thunder Bay, Young Hoon said, adding that if travelling for any essential reason, prevention measures must be practised while away from home. Upon return to the NWHU catchment area, Young Hoon said residents should self-monitor for symptoms daily and get tested and self-isolate if any symptoms develop.

There are no big updates concerning the vaccine but Young Hoon said over the next few weeks, the NWHU will be focusing on second doses for those in the area who have already received their first does of the vaccine. This includes vaccinating residents, staff and essential visitors in long-term care homes, elder residents and high priority health care workers.