Large holiday gatherings discouraged

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

Community spread seen throughout region

Due to high COVID-19 case numbers, the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) is asking all  residents in the region to avoid large gatherings and traveling outside of the region.

The current gathering restrictions are 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.

Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the NWHU, said the health unit has added 4,000 vaccination appointments this week.

“We encourage you to visit our website and book your next appointment,” she said. “I want to thank staff, healthcare partners and volunteers who have offered their time over the holidays to ensure our additional clinics are staffed.”

Booster doses are available for anyone 18 and older who had their second dose 12 weeks ago, Young Hoon said, adding that Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are interchangeable for booster doses.

“It is strongly recommended that you receive the vaccine you are offered to be best protected against the Omicron variant,” Young Hoon said. “It doesn’t matter what brand you receive your first or second dose, any mRNA vaccine is safe and effective as a booster.”

As of today 25 per cent of people aged 18 or older had their booster vaccine, and this percentage will increase significantly over the next few weeks, Young Hoon said.

She also said the vaccination rates for first doses in five to 11 year olds are 55 per cent.

As of yesterday, the NWHU catchment area had 102 active cases, with 12 new cases throughout the region, three in the Dryden Health hub area, two in the Emo Health hub area, one in the Fort Frances Health hub area, two in the Kenora Health hub area, one in the Red Lake Health hub area, one in the Rainy River Health hub area and two in the Sioux Lookout Health hub area.

The Omicron variant has not been detected in the reported positive cases yet.

Young Hoon said she believes there are cases the health unit is not aware of because some people are still choosing not to get tested.

“That’s one of the reasons public health restrictions are applied,” Young Hoon said. “We are encouraging everyone to follow public health prevention measures that we’ve always been using over the past two years.”

Young Hoon said this includes physical distancing, good hand hygiene, staying home if you are sick and wearing a mask if you’re in an indoor public space.

Young Hoon said it is important for individuals to assess risk in all of their interactions and then when they are moving about in public spaces, make that additional effort to reduce the likelihood of transmission.

Young Hoon also said it is important for places of worship to follow a 50 per cent capacity limit along with physical distancing.

While some of the cases are travel-related, Young Hoon said, she does not think that is the only factor driving the increase in cases.

“At this point, the increasing cases we’re seeing particularly in the Rainy River District indicates that there’s transmission of the virus in the community and it’s not primarily driven by travel-related cases,” Young Hoon said.