The number of COVID-19 variants in Peel Region jumped from five cases to potentially 250 in the past week prompting local officials to suggest we put the brake on quick re-openings.
Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s Medical Officer of Health, raised the alarm bell again today pointing out that numbers in the past seven days show that variants are rapidly spreading.
“We have gone just in seven days, from five reported cases of variants of concern to 45, with over 200 additional cases that have screened positive,” said Dr. Loh. “The screening test is highly accurate, so it’s almost certain that all 200 of those could be confirmed as a variance of concern.”
Dr. Loh went on to say that while some of the rise is explained by increased screening by provincial laboratory partners, the local health department’s investigation into various clusters in Peel have identified additional findings of concern.
“We have confirmed that the variants appear to be more transmissible, seemingly linked to much shorter interactions, as opposed to the typical close contact that is needed to transmit the original strain,” he said. “We are still largely unvaccinated as a community and many in our community remain vulnerable. This means that opening too quickly risks another surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”
Dr. Loh said holding off a re-start until the beginning of March will give health officials the time to review any impact the school re-openings might have on community transmission before opening more businesses, especially with cases of the new variants on the rise.
While Dr. Loh didn’t point any fingers, his message appears targeted at Queen’s Park where provincial officials seem intent on re-starting the economy in the days ahead.
The province has indicated that Peel could, along with Toronto and York Region, be released from the current stay-at-home order as soon as February 22. Although local leaders expect Peel to re-enter the grey/lockdown category then, the province will allow limited in-person shopping in all retail settings at 25 per cent capacity in the region. Ski hills will also be allowed to open and libraries will be permitted to allow residents to use computers and photocopiers.
Should Peel re-enter the “grey zone,” gyms and salons will not be permitted to reopen and restaurants will not be able to offer any dine-in services. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to no more than 10 people and residents will still be required to wear masks or face-coverings inside public indoor areas.
Dr. Loh said if the province proceeds with moving Peel into the framework that will allow more re-openings, then increased measures need to be put into place to protect vulnerable workers, such as paid sick leave and rapid testing for the virus.
“Simply put, more testing and isolation centers are no good if you can’t take time off work to use them (through paid sick leave),” he said.