Stalled: public health officials say variants could drive up COVID-19 cases again

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This graphic from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table shows Lambton has the fourth highest rate of COVID per 100,000 in the province right now.

Lambton has fourth highest rate of COVID per capita in the province

The co chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table says progress in the fight against COVID-19 has stalled and the new variants of the disease are to blame.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown and Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, told reporters Thursday to expect the number of COVID-19 cases in the province to begin to rise again. In fact, Brown says depending on how well people follow public health rules, in the next three weeks, Ontario could have between 2,000 and 8,000 cases of the virus a day.

If the worst case scenario happens, Stein says Ontario’s hospitals would have a hard time meeting the needs of even the most urgent care because the intensive care units would be filled.

Stein says the new variants of COVID-19 spread the virus easier. In some communities, like Sudbury, the variants are gaining a foothold. Forty per cent of the COVID-19 cases in Sudbury are variants. That community moves to lockdown Friday.

“We have two pandemics where the old variants are under control but the new variants of concern are not under control,” Brown says.

In Lambton, nine variants of concern have been identified, including two in Brooke Central School. Public health closed the school for two weeks to try to stop any transmission.

Graphics shown by Stein during the presentation show Lambton has the fourth highest rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the province behind Thunder Bay, Peel and Brant. The modelling graphics show Lambton has 80 cases per 100,000 population however information released by public health Wednesday show that’s now up to 102 cases per 100,000.

Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Sudit Ranade, voiced concern about the rising COVID-19 rates in the community. Thursday, there were 28 new cases of COVID-19 recorded. He told reporters he’s “uncomfortable” with the trends. There were 133 new cases in the first week of March. In the last four days there have been another 67.

“It’s really tempting to go back into normal activities…I think what we’re seeing here is the impact of that,” he says.

And he acknowledges the province may consider moving Lambton into lockdown. Ranade says he has mixed feelings on that idea. “We’ve just come out of a lockdown so it is going to be really challenging to dive back into another one.”

Ranade says the province normally looks at whether the local hospitals and public health can handle the number of cases occurring in the community. So far in Lambton, both are in good shape. He adds if the province does move Lambton to the grey zone it will be over a concern for the variants in the community.

Moving back in the grey-lockdown zone would mean restaurants would once again be closed to in person dining, businesses would have to operate with 25 per cent capacity and grocery stores at 50 per cent capacity.

Public gatherings indoors would be off limits and churches would only be able to have 10 people in the building at a time.

Hair and nail salons would also be closed again.

The province looks at the numbers across the province Friday and decides whether to move regions into different levels of the framework.