If COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the Northwestern Health Unit says further public health restrictions and lockdowns could be on their way, and potentially by the holidays if the situation worsens.

“At this point, cases overall in the province are increasing, but very slowly. Some areas are seeing significant increases, while others are remaining low. So at this point, I believe the strategy will be locally-implemented restrictions,” explains Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon.

Ontario says local medical officers of health continue to have the ability to issue advice, recommendations or instructions under the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020, as well as Section 22 order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

As well, municipalities have the authority to enact by-laws to target specific COVID-19 transmission risks in the community.

As of December 7, Northern Ontario health units such as Algoma and Timiskaming, as well as Chatham-Kent in southern Ontario, have introduced additional public health safety measures and restrictions to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“That is something that we would consider in the Northwestern Health Unit if case numbers were to increase significantly, and we were seeing spread within communities,” she adds.

Young Hoon says some of the things the NWHU would be looking at before introducing new restrictions would include cases being between 60 to 100 cases per 100,000 population per week, that week’s COVID-19 test positivity and our area’s rate of hospitalization.

The NWHU would also have to discuss their options with the province and Public Health Ontario before implementing any new measures. Although, she adds local staff would also be looking closely at the specific situation at the time.

“It’s hard to predict with the Omicron variant that is new. It’s in Ontario. There is spread in some parts of Ontario. And that is likely to change things over the next little while,” adds Young Hoon.

Ontario reported 928 new cases of COVID-19 on December 7. Today’s case count is a 35 per cent jump from the same time last week. Ontario says as of December 6, there were 165 COVID-19 related critical illness patients in intensive-care units, representing only 7 per cent of overall ICU capacity in the province.

Ontario paused the next step of their reopening plan, set for November 15, on November 10 due to an ongoing increase in COVID-19 cases across the province. It was delayed at least 28 days to December 13 at the earliest.

“To me, that was very appropriate considering case numbers across Ontario are increasing at this time, and there are a number of jurisdictions where [cases] are particularly high,” says Young Hoon.

But on December 7, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore extended that pause in higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required, as the province continues to monitor public health trends.

“While an increase in the number of cases was always expected as we entered the winter months, with the emergence of the Omicron variant we must continue following the measures we have in place that have been working for us,” said Dr. Moore.
Affected settings include:

- Food or drink establishments with dance facilities such as nightclubs and wedding receptions in meeting/event spaces where there is dancing,
- Strip clubs,
- Sex clubs and bathhouses.

Overall, Ontario says these restrictions are set to continue until more residents become vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Over the coming weeks and months, we need to stay the course on reaching those who have not yet been vaccinated,” adds Dr. Moore.

“If you have not yet received the vaccine, please do so today and if you are eligible for a booster dose, please book your appointment to provide yourself with an extra layer of protection. Achieving the highest vaccination rates possible remains our best defence against COVID-19 and variants.”

NWHU recommends that everyone, including those who have been vaccinated, assume COVID-19 is in their community and practise preventive measures like physical distancing, wearing a mask in enclosed public spaces and when physical distancing is a challenge, good hand hygiene, and not touching their face.

Anyone who has symptoms, or who has been in contact with a positive case, should self-isolate and get tested.  For information about getting tested, please visit the NWHU website for instructions on how to schedule an appointment at an assessment centre.