The Northwestern Health Unit says northwestern Ontario is officially in the 6th wave of COVID-19, and staff are seeing increases in local COVID-19 case counts.

As of April 13, staff reported a total of 191 active cases of COVID-19 in their catchment area, which includes 106 on-reserve cases in the Sioux Lookout area, 14 in the off-reserve Sioux Lookout area, 23 in Kenora, 21 in Dryden and 16 in the Fort Frances area.

Medical Officer of Health with the NWHU, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, says that the number of people in our region with COVID-19 is likely much higher than their data shows, as many people are testing positive through Rapid Antigen testing.

“It is likely that when interacting in public settings, people will be exposed to the virus. The risk of this happening will go up and down as we experience waves of illness, but the risk will still be there,” said Dr. Young Hoon, as she continued to recommend masking in indoor public settings.

In a new report published by Public Health Ontario, the province says we’re seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 dominated by the new BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, itself a variant of the original strain of COVID-19, and due to its increased transmissibility, severe cases of COVID-19 are expected to increase.

Earlier this week, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said the recent trend of rising hospitalizations driven by the BA.2 subvariant is likely to continue into May.

Young Hoon notes that northwestern Ontario has also seen a small increase in hospitalizations, and staff are monitoring these trends closely.

“A key focus of our current pandemic response efforts is preventing spread of the virus within high-risk settings. By protecting the most vulnerable populations, we help prevent local healthcare facilities from becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.”

Both Moore and Public Health experts have warned that the current wave of COVID-19 may cause further in-person learning disruptions and could force a return of mandatory mask mandates.

“Stay home when you are unwell, stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations, continue to wear a mask in public settings and limit the number of people you come into contact with. [These] can help lower the chances of spreading the illness or getting infected,” adds Young Hoon.

Last week, Ontario announced it would be expanding eligibility for fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to individuals aged 60 and over and First Nation, Inuit and Metis individuals and their household members over 18, as long as it’s been five months since your last booster dose.

Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Theresa Tam, says that preliminary data shows that a fourth dose, or a second booster dose, of the vaccine can offer additional protection against infection, severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Eligible individuals are now able to book their fourth dose appointment through the COVID-19 vaccination portal, by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900, through the Northwestern Health Unitparticipating pharmacies and participating primary care settings.