The seventh wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has officially hit northwestern Ontario.

The Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority is reporting 674 active cases of COVID-19 in their catchment area, which includes 31 northern Indigenous communities.

Reported cases include 508 in Sandy Lake First Nation and 73 cases in Poplar Hill First Nation, both communities located north of Pikangikum and Red Lake, with an additional 12 cases in Pikangikum and 33 in Webequie First Nation.

In the Northwestern Health Unit’s catchment area, staff are reporting a total of 135 active cases with 108 on-reserve cases of COVID-19 in the Sioux Lookout area, as well as small amounts of cases like 8 cases in Kenora, 7 in Fort Frances and 4 in Dryden.

Experts say the new wave of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is being driven by two new subvariants of Omicron, itself a variant of the original strain of COVID-19, named BA.4 and BA.5

Data from countries that were hit by BA.4 and BA.5 earlier in the year suggests these subvariants are less severe than previous strains of the virus, but they remain a major cause for concern for Canadians. Roughly 60 per cent of Ontario’s current COVID-19 cases are estimated to be from BA.4 or BA.5.

COVID-19 test positivity in Ontario has reached 13.5 per cent, the highest its been since May. The province says 712 people are in hospital with COVID-19, up 585 from last week. There are also 110 patients in intensive care units, up 95 from last week.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, says an announcement about expanded eligibility for second booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine can be expected soon.

Moore explains that booster shots increase protection against severe outcomes from the illness by about 90 per cent, but only temporarily. He says by five months after your booster, protection falls to about 70 per cent in healthy adults and further drops can be seen in seniors.

Across Canada, just over 40 per cent of eligible Canadians have not received their third booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

As it stands, all individuals aged 12 and older are eligible for the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A fourth dose is available for those who are 60 and older, immunocompromised or Indigenous.

You can find out how you can book your vaccine appointment through the NWHU HERE.

SLFNHA is continuing to recommend a mask mandate in indoor settings in each of their communities, which the communities have a choice to follow.