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Sutcliffe: By the numbers, Greater Sudbury should be in the Red Zone

However, more information is taken into consideration, said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe
Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, chief medical officer of health Public Health Sudbury & Districts. (Supplied)

By the numbers alone, Greater Sudbury would be in the Red Zone right now, having had 85 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the service area in the past seven days, with 32 of these cases reported in one day alone.

Furthermore, Public Health Sudbury and Districts is advising that 28 COVID-19 cases have either screened positive or been confirmed for the more transmissible virus mutations, called variants of concern (VOC).

“It’s an assessment on a weekly basis by the provincial medical officer of health that then makes recommendations to the provincial cabinet,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health with Public Health Sudbury and Districts, during a virtual press conference Tuesday afternoon. 

“We are in the Orange Zone currently, which is determined by the number of cases, outbreaks, as well as the capacity of the health care and the public health system. We will have to see how this evolves in the next few days through consultations with Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.”

Typically, announcements about moving jurisdictions from one zone to another are made on a Friday for the following Monday, she said.

“I will absolutely be having an opportunity to engage with the chief medical officer of health to get a feel for the situation here and what concerns they might have,” she said.

Of the 28 cases involving variants of concern, there are four the health unit has not been able to detect how the person was infected, said Sutcliffe. 

“So, while we might be able to say we had a case that was spread within a family or a small cluster, we are now seeing cases where we just don’t know how they were infected,” said Sutcliffe.

“We are expecting to continue to see such cases, and at this time, the only way to really protect against it is to ramp up public health prevention measures, at a time when we’re all feeling very weary of those measures.”

The health unit is monitoring a number of outbreaks in various institutional, community, congregate care, and school settings, including a large multi-unit dwelling.

In terms of vaccinations, the health unit is reporting 6,832 total doses have been administered, including first and second doses. A total of 5,989 people have received their first dose, while 843 people are fully vaccinated. 

“We have immunized the most vulnerable so far, as well as the highest priority health-care workers, and we are now looking to continue with Indigenous adults (Métis, Inuit and First Nations), very high priority health care workers, adults 80 years of age and older, adult recipients of chronic home care, and residents and staff of congregate care settings for seniors,” said Sutcliffe.

Those plans are still in the works, and the health unit will issue more detailed information about where those clinics will be held and how to book appointments.

Every effort is being made to ensure immunization clinics are accessible and inviting, and that people have information about the opportunities with enough lead time to book appointments, said Sutcliffe.

“In addition to our efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, we know that getting vaccines in arms is critically important to our community’s ability to overcome this pandemic. “Every clinic we offer and every vaccine that gets into an arm gets us one step closer to building our community’s immunity to COVID-19.”

On Feb. 26, the Porcupine Health Unit in Timmins issued a class order under Section 22 of Ontario's Health Protection and Promotion Act, enabling the health unit to enforce self-isolation requirements. 

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit issued a class order on March 2.

Sutcliffe said she has no intention of putting in place a class order for Public Health Sudbury and Districts.

In the instances in which they have been ordered, it has largely been because they face concerns of individuals not following through on their requirements to self isolate, she said. This is a measure to ensure the first level of protection is done, so that if there are individuals who still do not comply with requirements, faster action can be taken to ensure compliance, or fines can be issued.

“This is not currently the case in our jurisdiction with cases we have seen here,” said Sutcliffe.

Variants of concern are considered more contagious, but are the symptoms more severe? It’s a question that is still being studied, said Sutcliffe. 

“There are some indicators pointing toward more virulence, or severity of a disease, but it’s still being studied, and the big concern right now is how quickly they can be transmitted from one person to another.”