Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young-Hoon says the second shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in the region.

The NWHU and Ontario’s goal of giving the first dose of the vaccine to all long-term care home residents by February 10 is expected to be met locally says Young-Hoon, although a few residents may receive their first dose of the vaccine on February 11.

“The shipment we’ve received is enough to complete vaccinations of residents of long-term care homes, and residents and staff of elder-care homes on First Nation communities, for the entire catchment area.”

At this point, Young-Hoon doesn’t know when shipments for the second dose of vaccine is expected from the province, as supply is extremely limited across the province, which is still under stay-at-home orders.

Young-Hoon adds staff will be reaching out and working with local businesses on how they can adapt to Ontario’s changing restrictions, as the orders are set to end on February 16, but could be extended.

“Things are status-quo here until at least February 16. Non-essential businesses will be able to open at 25 per cent capacity and must follow specific regulations on February 16, if we don’t see an increase in cases.”

Before the extension was extended by Premier Doug Ford earlier this week, Young-Hoon says she was consulted with by the province on how successful the catchment area’s COVID-19 prevention work has been, and what could be improved.

Young-Hoon says people in the region are following measures and restrictions, and case and contact tracing numbers have been manageable.

“Sometimes we see a few cases, and they’ve been spread generally through informal gatherings in households. Through case and contact management, we’re able to control it and prevent that spread,” explains Young-Hoon.

However, she notes areas close to us like Winnipeg and Thunder Bay have been hit much harder, and variants of COVID-19 have been found in Sudbury and Timiskaming in Northern Ontario, so the illness still poses a great risk to the area.

The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit confirmed the first case of a COVID-19 variant on February 4, the first variant found in Northern Ontario, after international travel.

To help combat the spread of any variants, all of Ontario’s positive COVID-19 tests will now be screened for known variants. The province has found over 100 confirmed cases of the UK variant and a case of the South African variant strain in their testing.

The UK variant has been confirmed to be the cause of an outbreak at a long-term care home in Barrie. Within 48 hours of the first positive test result in a staff member, there were 55 other cases within the facility. There have been 229 cases out of 230 residents and staff since, as well 66 deaths.

Young-Hoon says at this point, she doesn’t know if or how the region’s restrictions will loosen on February 16, as we’re expected to remain under stay-at-home orders or move back into Ontario’s tier-based COVID-19 framework, with varying levels of restrictions.

“They’ll be looking very closely at our numbers. Our rates, our per cent positivity rate, our health unit capacity and the health sector capacity, to determine what level the Northwestern Health Unit area will be going into,” she explains.

As it stands, the NWHU has reported 283 cases of the virus since March, 2020, and there’s currently 13 active cases in the Kenora area, with 4 in the Sioux Lookout region.

She adds recent cases have been mostly linked to close contacts of positive cases, but there have been 2 cases of the illness linked to travel, and 1 source of exposure is unknown at this time.

Young-Hoon says in advance of second phase of the vaccine rollout, for the elderly and frontline workers, anyone who is expected to be breastfeeding, who is immuno-suppressed or compromised or who have had severe reactions to MNRA vaccines should talk to their healthcare provider for information on any risks.

“Consider contacting them now to discuss the benefits and the risks of the vaccine, so you will be ready when the vaccine is available for you.”

Anyone with any COVID-19 symptoms is asked to self-isolate and get tested, and remain in isolation until your test results are known.

For more information:
Rickford talks impact of new cases in the district
Shutdown, stay-at-home orders extended to Feb. 16