NWHU reports COVID-19 outbreaks across the region

By Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
enguyen@fortfrances.com

Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) reports that COVID-19 activity has been increasing across the region. The public is strongly encouraged to wear masks indoors and follow isolation measures when symptomatic or testing positive.

Although case numbers may not have increased drastically, the numbers only include individuals who have been PCR tested. Hospitalizations, wastewater testing, and additional metrics are also used to determine public risk. Three hospitals, one long term care home, and an institution in the region are currently experiencing outbreaks.

Dr. Kit Young Hoon, Medical Officer of Health at NWHU, explained that PCR testing is limited to certain populations, including those working in high risk settings. Rapid antigen tests are widely available for the public if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

COVID-19 local data reports 103 active cases in the NWHU catchment area, with a percent positivity of 16.3%. Most of the active cases are in the Sioux Lookout area. BA.4 and BA.5, sub variants of Omicron, are likely the cause of the recent outbreaks, noted Young Hoon. Widening eligibility for PCR testing may be considered in the future, but Young Hoon thinks that it is important to be strategic with how resources are allocated.

“If we were to dedicate a lot more staffing to doing PCR testing, we’ll have less staff for things like emergency room departments,” she said.

NWHU strongly recommends that the public wear masks in all indoor spaces where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Gathering outdoors instead of indoors, reducing the size of indoor gatherings, or avoiding large crowds can also reduce the risk of COVID-19. This applies particularly to high risk individuals.

Adults aged 18+ are now eligible for a second booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccines. Children aged six months to four years can now receive their first vaccine shot. As an enhanced prevention measure, the COVID-19 vaccines will not be offered in one shot along with flu vaccines this year. Based on current guidance from Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization, the flu vaccine can be administered at any time before or after other vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve all heard about the pressures on the health care system right now including staffing challenges, longer waiting times in hospital emergency rooms, and even the possible short term closure of some emergency departments. By doing our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we will also help to reduce the pressure on our local healthcare services.”

To follow up about the recent monkeypox global health emergency, Dr. Young Hoon reports that nothing in the northwest regions has changed. There have been no local cases; however, if any symptoms—rash with blisters, fever, headache/muscle aches, tiredness, and swollen lymph nodes—appear, individuals should contact a health care provider as soon as possible. Most of Ontario’s cases have appeared in southern Ontario. NWHU will inform the public should cases appear locally.

More information about local COVID-19 data or the vaccine can be found at nwhu.on.ca.