The provincial government announced on Friday that the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) area will be moving to the Red-Control level of the COVID-19 Response Framework as of this morning at 12:01 a.m.
The new level adds additional restrictions that includes:
Indoor gathering limit of five people
Outdoor gathering limit of 25
Only going out for essential reasons (work, school, essential shopping, health care, exercise)
Restaurants must have a limit of 10 customers inside and a maximum of four people per table
Services requiring the removal of face coverings will not be permitted at personal service establishments
Organized recreational team sports must not be practiced or played, with the exception of training sessions for team members. Training sessions are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, and must not include games/scrimmages. All training session drills/activities must allow for physical distancing of at least two metres between individuals.
The full list of restrictions can be found on the Ontario COVID-19 Response Framework website.
“I think moving up to a higher level is definitely reasonable for our area,” Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the NWHU, said. “It’s not just one community being affected and we are neighbouring to a health unit that is in lockdown and continues to be in lockdown.”
Rising case numbers are not the only concern in the region as the NWHU issued a release on Friday stating that two positive case result of the U.K variant have been found in the region.
The two cases are unrelated to one another. One case is in the Fort Frances area. The individual infected had recently returned to the area from a higher risk region and case and contact follow up has taken place. All close contacts are currently in isolation and the NWHU is awaiting test results from those close contacts to determine the likelihood of further spread.
The other case is a previously positive case linked to the areas first reported variant of concern in the Dryden area. No further spread from the case was seen and the case is now considered resolved.
Young Hoon said all COVID-19 tests that come back positive are screened for variants of concern. There has been a large increase in the number of cases recently, Young Hoon said, adding that she urges the public to take prevention measures seriously.
“Do not gather with anyone that you do not live with, stay two metres from others not in your household at all times, even outdoors,” Young Hoon said. “Get tested even if you have only one symptom and you and anyone you live with should stay home until the test results are known.”
Young Hoon said the NWHU does not recommend travel unless it is essential, especially to areas of higher risk, including Thunder Bay.
“We have had reports of people from Thunder Bay traveling to our region to access services,” Young Hoon said. “We do not recommend this unless it is absolutely essential.”
While COVID-19 cases continue to climb, the NWHU is also preparing for mass immunization clinics that will begin the week of March 22 for those 80 years and older.
There are also concerns regarding the immunization of the homeless population. Young Hoon said they are working in a number of communities to do targeted vaccination of a homeless population, adding it has been occurring over the past few days.
Young Hoon said they are not publicizing clinics that are not within their contained private settings because of security and privacy reasons.
“The mass immunization clinics will be by appointment only so we’re not wanting members of the public to come and see if they can get appointments or wait for an appointment,” Young Hoon said.
Young Hoon said the NWHU has administered in total 3,463 doses of the vaccine so far.
By Natali Trivuncic
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter