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The ‘Northern Bubble’ ~ Complacency is not an option.

Posted: February 18, 2021

(February 12, 2021)

By: Lynne Brown, SaultOnline

“The virus doesn’t move, people move it. If we stop moving, the virus stops moving.”

Covid-19 and the B.1.1.7. (UK) variant are showing a worrisome spread inside the ‘northern bubble’. The advice from Ontario’s Public Health officials, the Ministry of Health and Longterm Care and the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) are all the same. Do not travel outside of your own region – stay as close to home as possible. DO NOT TRAVEL unnecessarily. Complacency is not an option

Over and about COVID-19, the UK (B.1.1.7.) Covid variant tracking data shows a concerning trend at this point. Northern Ontario is most definitely not immune from the UK variant. As of Feb 8, 2021, there were 227 confirmed cases of B.1.1.7.(UK) variant, 130 of those cases were in the Muskoka region – 2 cases in the Sudbury district.

The emergence of the COVID-19 UK variant in Northern Ont, has created a heightened sense of urgency. Individuals representing health coalitions in the province’s northern regions came together over Zoom with Ontario Health Coalition’s Executive Director, Natalie Mehra. On Wednesday, Feb.10, 2021 the ‘Northern Bubble’ was the topic of discussion, with representatives pleading with the public to stay home. As much as northerners like to welcome visitors to their districts, this is truly not the time to explore the many benefits of the north.

COVID-19 UK variant tracking shows it should be of deep concern. As the variant spreads, the Ontario Health Coalition is calling on the Provincial government to enforce stronger public health measures. As of Feb 8, there are 227 confirmed cases of B.1.1.7. variant.

The Ontario Health Coalition is calling on the public to not travel at this time to northern regions of the province. Ben Lefebvre, Iroquois Falls OHC member joins in that chorus.

“In Iroquois Falls we are part of the vast Porcupine Health Unit – We are about three-quarters of an hour outside of Timmins. We have seen roughly 300 cases (in the district), and as of Monday, there were 22 deaths associated with COVID in the region. In Kapaskasing, the privately run Extendicare has had a pretty major outbreak and a number of deaths there – one of which has been confirmed as the UK variant. We can’t afford to have people coming up here from southern Ontario. The same goes in reverse – travelling to S. Ontario and then bringing it (COVID) back to their northern community. Iroquois Falls right now is still at status zero for cases of COVID. I think its only fair that we push for protection from the general public to just stay home and not travel to our region.”

Marie DellaVedova, Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma OHC member, is a longtime advocate for the Health Coalition. She took part in the Zoom ‘northern bubble’ media conference from her home in Sault Ste. Marie, which falls in the Algoma District Health Unit region. Superior Media spoke with Marie DellaVeldova late Thursday. “COVID-19 has transformed the way people gather. We do what we can to reinforce the message – healthcare funding and support for our front-line workers, our long-term care homes has to be front and center. So too does the message, that we are in no position to get complacent”

DellaVedova remarked on something she had read:”The virus doesn’t move, people move it. If we stop moving, the virus stops moving. Most of us have been doing that. We yearn to live our lives the way we have in the past. But that is not a good enough reason to let our guard down now. People’s lives hang in the balance.” she said. “We had very few cases (COVID) until shortly before Christmas when our numbers spiked and our numbers have not gone back down to the lower levels since. We know that there was increased travel and we know that there have been cases of COVID linked to travel in our community. In January in the midst of our 2nd lockdown, Algoma Public Health Unit advised the public about a New Years Party where COVID made an appearance. And now we know that the UK variant has been found in northern Ontario regions. We know that those variants are on our doorstep. Travelling at this time is absolutely out of the question. Nobody wants to bring a deadly virus into their home. Restricting international bridge travel has undoubtedly helped our community. We have a duty to keep each other safe – the virus doesn’t move – people move the virus. We know that restricting travel works. We absolutely do not want a third wave.”

The Algoma District Public Health Unit (APH) has now reported (Thursday, Feb 11, 2021) 194 cases (COVID-19) and 2 deaths. Today, APH has identified 7 confirmed cases associated with a specific multi-unit dwelling in Elliot Lake. Following a thorough public health investigation of this community cluster, including case and contact interviews, and an on-site environmental inspection, APH has determined that some cases are linked to known person-to-person exposures, but not all.

The Algoma Public Health is further reporting three new confirmed cases of COVID-19 today. All three of those cases are from Sault Ste. Marie and area.

Jules Tupker, Thunder Bay Health Coalition co-chair also shared in the urgent messaging. “In the Thunder Bay District, there have been 1,083 cases in TBay – 27 people have died with 24 deaths in one single long-term care home. In the second wave, COVID cases were found after a pickle ball tournament in Winnipeg – which is a direct result of people travelling to Winnipeg for the tournament. That is very concerning – people moving around is how the virus keeps spreading. Yes, we are all getting stir crazy, but we must put lives ahead of travelling to communities that are not our own. As of today, there are no known cases of the UK variant in our region, however flights are still coming in from southern Ontario. We continue to encourage people that if you do not have to travel to our district, please do not.”

Albert Dupuis, Blind River Health Coalition member said, “The evidence is very strong to support this mitigation effort in the northern bubble – when an area is geographically isolated there is marked difference in COVID numbers. When Ontario Ministers travelled over Christmas, it had the effect of inducing skepticism in some. We need to keep reinforcing the science – we know the science is sound – excuses and skepticism are not helpful. Here in Blind River, we are about an hour and a half east of Sault Ste. Marie. Very recently we had COVID cases that were linked to travel outside of our region. We know that the North Shore Health Network shut down to all visitors, acting out of an abundance of caution. Given the virility of the UK variant, we need to stay vigilant. We need to hang on for the foreseeable future. We’ve been working really hard in our community to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

This week an outbreak was declared at an apartment building in North Bay. On Tuesday, Feb.9, public health officials said that 19 people in the building and 2 visitors tested positive and at least three were likely the UK variant. More than 100 people at Skyline-Lancelot Apartments were tested over the weekend and health officials are asking the rest of the residents to get tested. Sunset Park Public School has been closed after one person infected at the school was contact traced to the apartment outbreak.

Dorothy (Dot) Klein, Sudbury Health Coalition co-chair said, “Here in the Sudbury region, we know that we have 2 cases presently of the B.1.1.7. variant. Please stay in your own region. I have 3 grandchildren in Ottawa and 2 in Toronto – we are all making concessions and sacrifices to get through this.”she shared.

Public Health Ontario has recommended time and time again that everyone should stay home as much as possible. By it’s very definition, a pandemic can only be resolved with intentional, concerted efforts from around the globe, of which, all of these northern regions are a part. The infrastructure is not necessarily in a position to keep up with a third wave if it hits northern Ontario. The ‘think globally, act locally’ slogan most definitely applies.

Across Canada, efforts to mitigate COVID-19 have largely been embraced by Canadians. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians have continued to take the precautions recommended by public health officials to protect themselves and others against COVID-19. In October, the overwhelming majority of Canadians reported wearing a mask in public places (98%), washing their hands more frequently (96%), maintaining a two-metre distance from others (96%), avoiding crowds and large gatherings (95%) and avoiding leaving the house for non-essential reasons (74%). By gender, males were less likely than females to report avoiding leaving the house for non-essential reasons, avoiding crowds or large gatherings and washing their hands. There were no statistical differences between genders for wearing a mask or maintaining a two-metre distance from others. There were no age groups that stood out overall for these precautions.

In the province of Ontario, Ontario’s Public Health Agency reported 1,072 more COVID-19 positive cases on Feb.10, 2021. The daily case count for COVID-19 appears to be consistently moving in a downward trajectory since emergency lockdown measures took place in January, 2021. The ‘northern bubble’, however is seeing spikes in numbers. As of today, there are 6,614 people who have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the province.

We are far from out of the woods on the COVID front. “We have a shared responsibility to keep each other safe, particularly the most vulnerable among us. said Ontario Health Coalition’s (OHC) Executive Director. “We have seen the consequences of holiday get-togethers and unnecessary travel. In northern Ontario, both in Wave I and in Wave II, COVID-19 cases are often traced to travel, either people travelling out and back in or people travelling in and visiting or having close contact with others and spreading the virus.”

As of Tuesday February 9, 2021:The Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit reported that 133 cases have tested positive for the COVID-19 variant of concern – UK B.1.1.7 and an additional 64 cases have screened positive and are awaiting confirmatory testing.

The U.K. variant was found in Sudbury and District Health Unit on January 24 and was linked to a person with a history of international travel. On Thursday February 4, the North Bay Perry Sound Health Unit identified another person with the UK variant, also linked to international travel. “On February 4 the Porcupine Health Unit said the B.1.1.7. UK variant case in the Cochrane District involved an individual linked to the COVID outbreak at Extendicare Kapuskasing, which has already infected 68 people and resulted in 11 deaths. Officials with the long-term care home said as of 11 a.m. Thursday morning, the facility has 46 active cases of COVID-19, 15 involving staff members and 31 residents.” Mehra stated in a media release.

Today, MPP Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s Minister of Education, announced that March break is now April break. “In support of our collective efforts to keep schools safe, we are postponing March break until April 12-16, 2021. This decision was made with the best advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and public health officials, including consultations with many local Medical Officers of Health.” he said. “We are taking this precaution based on advice from health experts, including the province’s Science Table and the Chief Medical Officer of Health, to help protect against the emerging COVID-19 variants of concern.”

According to the Ontario Public Health Epidemiologic Summary, the following is the breakdown by region for the B.1.1.7. UK COVID variant:

  • 11 in Durham
  • 1 in Haldimand-Norfolk
  • 1 in Halton
  • 1 in Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington
  • 4 in Middlesex London
  • 6 in Ottawa
  • 20 in Peel
  • 2 in Sudbury and District
  • 1 in Region of Waterloo
  • 130 in Simcoe Muskoka
  • 30 in Toronto
  • 20 in York Region

The Algoma Public Health Unit has posted the following Critical Actions to their website.

  • Anyone who is ill, even with mild symptoms, must stay home and isolate away from others.
  • Do not have close contact with others outside the immediate household of people you live with.  Outside of home, practice physical distancing at all times by staying 2 metres away from other people.
  • Effective Thursday, January 14, 2021 at 12:01 a.m., the Province of Ontario issued a stay-at-home order requiring everyone to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for essential work. In addition to limiting outings to essential trips, all businesses must ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home.
  • Indoor organized public events and social gatherings are not permitted except with members of the same household. Limit close contact to your household (the people you live with):
    • Families should not visit any other household or allow visitors in their homes
    • Individuals who live alone and single parents may consider having exclusive, close contact with another household to help reduce the negative impacts of social isolation
  • All returning international travellers must stay home for 14 days. APH’s Chippewa County travel advisory on January 27, 2021 strongly advises those who cross the Canada-US border regularly to also stay home as much as possible for 14 days, even if you are exempt from quarantine.
  • As of October 2, 2020, the mandatory masking policy was extended to all of Ontario for all indoor settings across the province, such as businesses, facilities and workplaces.

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