High positivity rate persists in region: NWHU

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

The COVID-19 numbers that are still being reported from the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) is still a major concern for Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at NWHU.

She said although most parts of Ontario are seeing a steady decline in COVID-19 positivity rate and hospitalizations, the northwestern health region is seeing an increase. The region has the highest case rate per 100,000 population in Ontario, about five times as high as the provincial rates. The region’s seven-day positivity rate is 455.1 per 100,000 population while Ontario as a whole sits at 19.27 per 100,000.

Young Hoon said residents should do more to protect themselves and others, including the local healthcare sector. 

“This is an urgent call to all residents to be more vigilant with prevention measures, including physical distancing, daily screening, staying home when unwell and wearing a mask when in indoor public settings,” she said. “I highly recommend getting a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine if you are eligible. It provides very good protection against infection and symptoms from the Omicron variant.”

Young Hoon said some of the restrictions were lifted provincially because public health was seeing a decrease in case number rates, percent positivity and hospitalizations. That being said, she stressed that we are not in the same situation.

Therefore, Young Hoon also said she recommends that residents keep social gathering limits to a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors and that all indoor public settings are limited to the number of people who are able to maintain a physical distance of at least two meters from every other person, to maximum capacity of 50 per cent.

“These recommendations have been issued to keep our region’s most vulnerable residents protected,” she said. “Older adults, unvaccinated people, and immunocompromised individuals are particularly at higher risk of severe outcomes from a COVID-19 infection. I am hopeful that these enhanced prevention practices will allow our local COVID-19 rates to decrease.”

In recommending these precautions, the health unit looks at case numbers, percent positivity and hospitalization numbers. With 85,000 in population, Young Hoon said the hospitalization numbers are hard to interpret because they’re very small in number so overall as a population.

“However, we have seen an increase in case numbers,” she said. “And we’ve also seen that percent positivity is not improving while for Ontario, it’s been steadily improving over the past month. It does suggest that overall there is increased circulating illness in our catchment area.”

Young Hoon said the timing of the Omicron wave is another reason the northwestern region is seeing an increase in the case numbers.

She explained that the Omicron variant wave started later than the rest of Ontario.

“We did not peak as high,” she said. “The peak of Ontario went much higher than the peak of our rate. That means we have a flatter curve and it’ll last longer. Our population is more distributed, so the spread occurs over a longer period of time.”

Therefore, she said the risk in the region is higher and the best precaution is limiting indoor gatherings.

“As a region we are capable of doing this without much undue hardship and that we can make that effort to minimize interactions as much as we can,” Young Hoon said.