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Northern Ontario health unit locked down for two weeks due to Delta variant, ‘alarming’ surge in new cases

Northern Ontario health unit locked down for two weeks due to Delta variant, ‘alarming’ surge in new cases
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An “alarming” surge in COVID cases, including in several remote First Nations communities, means the northeastern health unit of Porcupine will stay locked down for two weeks.

The health unit will also open up second doses to anyone who got a first shot on or before May 9, in an effort to protect against the more contagious Delta variant.

“The Porcupine health unit is still in its third wave,” said Dr. Lianne Catton, medical officer of health, at a press conference Thursday afternoon, held at the same time that Steini Brown presented a much more optimistic picture of trends in the rest of the province on behalf of the Ontario science table.

Cases are dropping sharply in almost all public health units. But in Porcupine, they “continue to see cases, exposures and spread in absolutely every setting,” Catton said.

“It’s extra hard because we’re going through this at a time when everyone else is improving.”

The current restrictions will likely be in place until June 24, with no patio dining or in-person non-essential shopping. This makes Porcupine the only public health unit not to start reopening, Friday.

There were 51 new cases confirmed in the region Thursday, including five in Timmins; 45 in the James Bay and Hudson Bay region; and one in the area of Cochrane, Matheson, Iroquois Falls, Smooth Rock Falls.

a community health-care provider in James Bay and Hudson Bay region, there are 43 new cases in Kashechewan First Nation.

There are two confirmed cases of the Delta variant in Porcupine so far, but they have no travel links, suggesting it’s already widely circulating, Catton said.

She noted the region has secured “several” extra allocations of vaccine and are “expecting to hear of more.”

This is crucial as the latest evidence suggests “it’s a much bigger gap between the first and second dose than what we’ve seen with any of the other variants,” Catton said.

The region still has the most new cases per hundred thousand of any health unit in the province at 21.38, well above GTA hot spots Peel (9.41) and Toronto (4.17), according to the most recent provincial data.

Catton added that in Porcupine the case rate increased by 125 per cent or 750 cases, from April 30 to May 31.

She remains “optimistic” that it won’t be long until they can rejoin the rest of the province. But they “need more time to make sure that we are getting this turned around appropriately.”

As of Thursday afternoon, by WAHA’s count, there are now 202 cases in the James and Hudson Bay Region, including 114 in Kashechewan, 48 in Fort Albany, 24 in Moosonee, 10 in Attawapiskat, and six in Moose Factory

“We do see the cases of COVID on the rise, specifically in two of the communities along the James Bay coast, Fort Albany and Kashechewan,” said WAHA’s president and CEO, Lynne Innes.

“With the lacking of infrastructure and isolation facilities in the communities, it makes it very difficult. When you have three families living in one home, it’s a challenge for us.”
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