‘We are winning a race here that we’d rather not win’

Public Health Sudbury and Districts announced on Monday that it is “rolling back the clock” on certain COVID-19 measures as a result of the rapid rise in local cases.

Beginning at midnight on Nov. 10, the health unit will reinstate certain provincial protections in Greater Sudbury, including capacity limits and physical distancing requirements at premises that require proof of vaccination.

Additional masking and proof of vaccination requirements will also be implemented at indoor and outdoor public events and for anyone aged 12 and over who actively participates in organized sports.

These limits apply to Greater Sudbury only; Public Health’s jurisdiction also includes Espanola, Manitoulin Island and the District of Sudbury.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe said these time-limited measures implemented under the Reopening Ontario Act are a result of not only the number of cases being recorded in the region, but also the rate at which cases are rising.

“We are winning a race here that we’d rather not win,” Dr. Sutcliffe said during a virtual press conference on Monday.

“We have seen the highest case rates in the province not just by a little bit in our area, but by far. Obviously, no one wants to hear this news, but we need to turn back the clock and protect people and the health system.”

Sudbury’s health unit on Friday reached a milestone of 3,000 cases of COVID-19 reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

There were 122 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the Sudbury area on Monday (this number includes cases identified over the weekend).

With 257 active cases, Public Health is recording the highest rate of active cases among the province’s 34 health units and the highest recorded locally since April 2020.

The 14-day rate of new cases (incidence rate) is almost double that of the next highest public health unit in Ontario, Public Health said.

Currently, 99 per cent of whole genome sequenced samples taken in the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts are positive for the Delta variant.

The Delta variant is highly transmissible, which means that it can spread and impact our health system despite high levels of vaccination.

“The recent surge is in Greater Sudbury, and as no single setting or sector is driving the increase, broad measures are required to reduce the number of contacts people have with each other,” the health unit said.

“Transmission is widespread – especially in those aged 18 to 39 for whom vaccination rates are low and case rates are high – and Greater Sudbury is experiencing a record number of COVID-19 outbreaks.”

During the press conference, Dr. Sutcliffe said there is a correlation between easing capacity limits at different venues on the provincial level and the number of cases seen locally.

“The lifting of capacity limits permits there to be further interaction and contact between individuals and, therefore, the ability of the virus to spread from one another if we are not strictly adhering to all other public health measures,” she said.

Dr. Sutcliffe added that COVID-19 vaccinations are working as an additional layer of protection within the community.

“The vaccination certainly decreases the risk of being infected, as well as having severe disease and requiring hospitalization,” she said.

Those unvaccinated against COVID-19 are 15 times more likely to end up in hospital and 31 times more likely to end up in the ICU if infected, she added.

Public Health’s 18-page Letter of Instruction issued on Monday details the reinstatement of capacity limits and physical distancing requirements at premises that require proof of vaccination.

Businesses and organizations in Sudbury will be required to implement the COVID-19 prevention measures that were in place before Oct. 9 and proof of vaccination requirements will remain in place.

Additionally, businesses and organizations will be required to ensure masking at organized public events held indoors and outdoors where participants are within two metres of individuals that are not a part of their household.

Anyone aged 12 and older who actively participates in organized sports will be required to provide proof of vaccination unless a medical exemption applies.

This additional requirement will also be implemented for Public Health’s broader service area, which also includes the District of Sudbury and Manitoulin Island.

Public Health said it is still exploring rapid antigen testing in partnership with area school boards.

“In addition to that, we also need to pay more attention to the personal public health measures that we all have in our control,” Sutcliffe said.

“These include working from home where possible, asking yourself before going out what’s really essential, and making sure our threshold for testing is low.”

The health unit said that it will continue to focus on “progressive enforcement” of the reinstated health measures.

“Number one is making sure that people are aware of what the rules are, and they have the resources and tools to follow those rules,” said Dr. Sutcliffe.

“We certainly expect voluntary compliance. I will tell you that enforcement is absolutely a tool that we will use.”

Included in the Letter of Instruction is a reminder of enforcement fines if businesses or organizations do not comply.

Sutcliffe said these mandatory measures are time-limited, but she did not specify a timeframe.

“We have been fooled many times through the course of this pandemic with unexpected turns and twists,” she said.

“If this is, in fact, an effective circuit-breaker, we should be seeing a reduction in cases over the next two weeks. Might we have to wait longer than that to see what the impact is? We may have to.”

She added the length of time these measures are in place will also be dependent on what happens in the rest of the province.
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