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30% increase in cases has Gardner considering lockdown request

'Our trajectory is not headed in the right direction … We need to be prepared to go into a shutdown again in the near future,' said Simcoe Muskoka Distrct Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner
Dr. Charles Gardner during a weekly Facebook livestream and media briefing on Feb. 9.

The region’s medical officer of health has his hand on the emergency brake. 

Dr. Charles Gardner said he is ‘very seriously considering’ asking the province’s chief medical officer of health to put Simcoe-Muskoka back into lockdown. 

Last week’s case count was 30 per cent higher than the week before. The weekly incidence rate has been declining since the beginning of January. 

There are 171 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID variant strain from the UK, and another 216 cases that have screened positive for an as-yet unidentified variant. 

“The other screened positive cases will probably turn out to be the UK variant,” said Gardner. 

There are 10 outbreaks (including a couple that are declared over) with cases that have tested or screened positive for the B.1.1.7 variant. 

Six confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 confirmed in individuals in the region cannot be linked to any known variant outbreak. Another 111 cases have screened positive for a variant mutation and cannot be linked to an outbreak, indicating community spread of the more transmissible strains of the coronavirus. 

“These two facts: increased case counts and increased variant cases are a concern to me,” said Gardner. 

“The experience of other countries [England, Ireland, and Denmark] when they see a rise of this variant, they had another wave of COVID-19 they had to manage with another shutdown/lockdown,” said the doctor, adding he anticipates the region could be seeing the beginning of a new wave.

“It’s more effective to act early than if you wait for it to become entrenched,” said Gardner. 

This is the first time since the summer the health unit’s weekly incidence rate has come close to the province. The health unit saw about of 46 new cases per 100,000 people for the week of Feb. 14, and the province’s average weekly incidence rate is 50 cases per 100,000 people. 

“Our trajectory is not headed in the right direction … We need to be prepared to go into a shutdown again in the near future,” said Gardner. 

While the decision to put the region back into lockdown restrictions rests with the province, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said there’s an “emergency brake” clause in the province’s reopening plan allowing a regional medical officer of health to advise the province their health unit should be put into grey/lockdown restrictions according to the colour-coded framework. 

Gardner said the growth in cases cannot yet be attributed to the impact of lifting the previous shutdown, which is concerning to him as well. 

He reiterated his advice that people stay at home, even if it is no longer a legislated requirement. 

Though the doctor didn’t commit to a timeline for his decision on whether to recommend the region be locked down, he said he’d be watching the local trends over this week.