By Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller
As you have heard, the number of new COVID-19 cases has been growing steadily around the province including here in Muskoka. Ontario has been seeing around 3,000 new cases a day and Muskoka is seeing new cases almost every day. As of the writing of this Muskoka had 38 active cases including 12 in Huntsville.
Despite regional shutdowns and repeated requests to stay home, cellular data showed that people had been moving around a lot in December. And surveys have found that while most people are trying to follow public health measures, some made exceptions over the holidays and some other people have been completely ignoring the restrictions.
This behaviour has helped to create the current dire situation. Locally Dr. Charles Gardner told me that at least 20 per cent of cases in Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit were directly linked to holiday gatherings.
The latest modelling data completed after the holidays shows our hospital ICUs could be overwhelmed within a few weeks. This is the point where COVID poses a danger to people beyond those who actually get COVID-19. About one quarter of Ontario hospitals have no room left in their ICUs and as a result some patients are being moved to other hospitals.
As a result, last week Ontario announced a second State of Emergency and issued a stay-at-home order. The intention of this order is to reduce mobility around the province and within our communities in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 and in particular prevent the spread of the new variants of the virus that have been found to be more contagious.
In order to help businesses suffering with the expanded shutdown since Boxing Day, Ontario is now accepting applications for the Small Business Support Grant. Businesses can apply for this grant as well as for the PPE grant and Property Tax and Energy Rebates at: www.ontario.ca/COVIDSupport.
Shutdowns and supports are temporary measures. The real solution is vaccines and we are starting to see those administered.
Across the province Ontario had administered 224,134 vaccines as of January 19 including the first dose of vaccinations at 40 per cent of long term care homes. Locally, all eligible long-term care residents in Simcoe and Muskoka have received the first dose of their vaccine. As well, frontline healthcare staff and long-term care staff are receiving their first doses and all retirement home residents are expected to receive their first dose within the next 10 days, assuming supply remains available.
I want to take a moment here to thank Dr. Gardner and his team at Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. They did a great job getting the vaccine out to all our long-term care residents. As well, the vaccination clinic they are managing with Royal Victoria Health Centre and the City of Barrie has administered 13,000 vaccinations making it the second most productive clinic in Ontario.
For those wondering when they might receive the vaccine, our government released more information about the vaccination plans going forward.
Phase One of the vaccine implementation program is focused on vaccinating those at greatest risk and their caregivers, other healthcare workers, and those in remote Indigenous communities. This is expected to see approximately 1.5 million eligible people vaccinated by late March/early April.
Phase Two is expected to be completed by the end of July vaccinating up to 8.5 million Ontarians and will include:
– Older adults, beginning with those 80 years of age and older and decreasing in five-year increments;
– Individuals living and working in high-risk congregate settings not already vaccinated;
– Frontline essential workers (e.g. first responders, teachers, food processing industry); and
– Individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers.
Then Phase Three will offer the vaccine to anyone else who is eligible and has not yet received it.
These are brand new vaccines just beginning production so there will be some challenges. Unfortunately, last Friday we saw the first glitch in the supply chain which will slow down some of the Pfizer vaccines. In response, Ontario has adjusted the plan for second doses. This will mean that those people who have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and who are not residents of long-term care may have their second dose administered up to 42 days after the first dose. This is in line with revised directions from Health Canada.
We are all very tired of the public health measures. We all want to see our friends and families. We want to attend events. We want to travel. And for some people the isolation is hard to take. I know I sound like a broken record but please follow public health advice. Please stay home as much as possible. If you can work from home, please do so. Go out only for groceries, prescriptions, medical appointments, for exercise, or to pick up orders from a local restaurant or store. When you are anywhere near people you don’t live with, wear a mask and maintain physical distancing. At the same time, please find virtual ways to support anyone you know who is struggling with the isolation of this shutdown or anxiety about COVID.
With everyone’s co-operation we will get through this. Thank you for doing your part.
Photo of MPP Norm Miller is courtesy of his office. Queen’s Park photo “June 2012 Ontario Legislature Toronto” by Priscilla Jordão, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
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