Most local businesses following provincial rules says Klassen
BY DENNY SCOTT
Huron East continues to lead the region with nearly two thirds of the total active cases of COVID-19 across Huron and Perth Counties being located there.
As of Monday, according to Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH), there have been 1,267 positive tests results in Huron and Perth Counties, an increase of 40 cases since Feb. 1. A total of 95,427 tests have been completed for residents and, as of Jan. 24, the most recent day for data available, 1.6 per cent of weekly tests were coming back positive.
There are seven active outbreaks across the HPPH area, including one at a hospital.
St. Marys Memorial Hospital has an active outbreak that was declared Jan. 31. Since then, there have been seven confirmed cases: three in patients and four in staff.
There are currently four active outbreaks in long-term care facilities in Huron and Perth Counties: Seaforth Manor Nursing Home has a total of 62 cumulative cases since the outbreak was declared on Jan. 17, including 43 cases in residents and 19 in staff; Caressant Care Nursing Home in North Perth has 71 cumulative cases since the outbreak started on Jan. 10, 43 in residents and 28 in staff; Fordwich Village in Howick has one confirmed case in a staff member in an outbreak that started Jan. 30 and Hillside Manor in Perth East, now in its third outbreak of the pandemic, has two cases: one in a resident and one in a staff member in an outbreak that started Feb. 3.
There are two active outbreaks in retirement homes. Caressant Care Retirement Home has an active outbreak that started Jan. 7 and has, since then, reported 42 cases: 30 in residents and 12 in staff. Seaforth Manor Retirement Home has eight active cases in residents in an outbreak declared Jan. 31.
As for local counts, several municipalities in Huron County had no change over the past week including Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh (21 cumulative cases), Bluewater (32), Howick (34) and North Huron (38). Cases were on the rise in Central Huron, which is up to 50 cumulative cases from 47; Goderich, which saw an increase from 11 to 18; Huron East which increased from 80 to 89 cases; Morris-Turnberry which increased from 40 to 42 and South Huron which has four new cases for a total of 94.
In Perth County, North Perth saw an increase of seven cumulative cases to 339, Perth East climbed from 132 to 133, Perth South climbed from 29 to 31, West Perth climbed from 26 to 28, St. Marys increased from 28 to 30 and Stratford gained one case for a total of 288.
Active cases are located in Huron East (48), Goderich (six), South Huron (four), Central Huron (three), and Morris-Turnberry (three) in Huron County. In Perth County, there are seven active cases in North Perth, two in Perth South, one in West Perth, two in Stratford and two in St. Marys. There are currently a total of 78 active cases in Huron and Perth County.
There are currently 93 cases in isolation and a total of 3,371 isolation orders issued since the start of the pandemic. Currently, there is one case hospitalized across Huron-Perth, with a total of 48 since the start of the pandemic.
Exposure tied to outbreaks continues to be the most likely form of acquisition in Huron and Perth Counties with 30.6 per cent of cases being labelled as such. Household contacts account for 26.5 per cent of likely acquisition while close contact account for 16.2 per cent. Travel accounts for 1.3 per cent of likely acquisition of COVID-19. Representing one in every four cases, unknown acquisition accounts for 25.3 per cent.
During a press conference on Monday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Miriam Klassen reported that the majority of businesses in Huron and Perth Counties are following the rules set out by the Reopening Ontario Act.
As part of a workplace safety campaign, 15 provincial offences officers, accompanied by public health inspectors and representatives from Stratford Police Services, visited 137 sites to verify compliance with the act.
“They visited 137 big box stores and essential businesses permitted to operate,” Klassen said, highlighting grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations and agriculture-related businesses. “Sixty-four per cent of the businesses inspected were in compliance with the Reopening Ontario Act.”
Klassen said that seven tickets and several orders were issued as a result of the campaign, and said the most common problems were the lack of a safety plan, capacity limits and screening of employees and patrons.
“The majority of businesses are doing the right thing,” she said. “I’m encouraged that most were meeting the measures.
More detailed information, including whether fines were levied against any local businesses, will be available in the near future, Klassen said. As of Monday, the full disclosure of the campaign hadn’t been released.
Klassen said the vaccine rollout will likely continue as expected in the area with Phase 2 slated for mid-March. Phase 2, according to the province’s COVID-19 website, includes “increasing stocks of vaccines [and making it] available to all health care workers, residents in long-term care homes and retirement homes, home care patients with chronic conditions and additional Indigenous communities.”
Phase 3, which will see the vaccine available to everyone who wants it, is expected to start in August, Klassen said.
She said to continue to watch the HPPH’s website for more information.
When asked about reports that the vaccines may not be effective against variants, she said that isn’t unusual or unexpected and that the vaccines may need to be updated, as happens every year with influenza vaccines. She said she didn’t anticipate it impacting the rollout, but the province’s response will be adjusted if it becomes an issue.
The Province of Ontario’s stay-at-home order will gradually be lifted for health units across the province, according to an announcement on Monday made by Premier Doug Ford.
The province will transition back to the five-tiered colour system ranging from the green zone to the gray lockdown starting on Feb. 11 for several health units.
Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, Renfrew County Public Health and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health will enter the “green zone”. The rest of the province, excepting Toronto, Peel Region and York Region, will move into their respective colour zones as of Feb. 16.
Other than establishing that three health units would be in the green zone, there was no information given as to whether the five-coloured framework would include the same metrics as before or be changed as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
Ontario Minister of Health Christine Elliott pointed to the variants discovered in several health units as a reason for possible change. She also said that hospital numbers were high and that needed to be addressed.
It was announced that further loosening of the measures won’t be considered until at least 28 days after the last health unit returns to the framework.
The announcement also outlined that non-essential retailers will be able to open to in-person shopping with 25 per cent capacity. The 50 per cent capacity limit for essential retailers, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, remains in place.
When asked what Ford’s announcement meant for Huron and Perth Counties, Klassen said she would anticipate the area being in the orange level, but said there are a lot of factors that go into that decision.
“What I can say is we’ve been on a very positive trend, with cases going down,” she said. “The Chief Medical Officer of Health has a picture for the whole province and emerging issues…. There might be some judgement as to how the overall colours are landed on.”
Despite the gradual reopening of the province, Klassen said it is very important for people to continue to isolate when possible and follow public health orders.
She said businesses that are allowed to open will require a safety plan and everyone will still be asked to minimize contact and only take part in essential activities.
“If the numbers turn around, the province has an emergency brake plan,” she said. “We can go right back down to gray or shut down. We don’t want that to happen.”
Klassen also fielded questions regarding businesses that aren’t allowed to open like gyms and personal service businesses (hair salons, tattooists, etc.) , or have severe limitations on them, like in-person dining establishments.
“By now, we have 11 months of data,” she said. “[We know] the factors that increase transmission and what protects against it. Personal services, in-person dining [establishments] and gyms all have components that would increase the risk of transmission.”
She said that gym usage results in exertion which increases respiratory droplets that might spread the disease, personal dining requires taking masks off and personal services require close proximity between the store owner and customers.
“With new variants that transmit more easily, looking at factors like that would be more reasonable,” she said.