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Here's where the local COVID-19 vaccine program is at

Top doctor expects the region will stay in the orange zone
2020-05-11 PHU building
The Porcupine Health Unit. Maija Hoggett/TimminsToday

Second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are starting to roll out in the region this week, according to Porcupine Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Lianne Catton.

Today, Catton provided an update on the status of COVID-19 in the region and talked about what's coming up with the local vaccination program.

Locally, the Moderna vaccine has been used so far.

“We expect that vaccine allocations will start to increase and we will be at a point where we will be vaccinating more and more folks over the next few weeks and we will be sharing this very regularly,” said Catton.

The province has laid out the guidelines for the vaccination program. In the first phase, the first priority is residents at long-term care homes and at high-risk retirement settings, as well as First Nation elder care residents.

Catton said those first doses have been done and the second doses are starting to be administered this week.

The next group to receive vaccines is staff and essential caregivers at the priority sites mentioned, as well as alternate level of care patients with a confirmed bed in a long-term care or retirement home and Indigenous adults. The highest priority healthcare workers are also included. Catton explained this includes patient-facing staff working in areas such as intensive care, the emergency department, or people who are more likely to be exposed to COVID or are working with patients who are at a greater risk from being exposed to the virus.

“We do expect that all of these folks that are high risk will be vaccinated as soon as we’re able to, as soon as vaccine allocations increase to that point that we’re vaccinating multiple groups at once, which we expect to happen over the next few weeks, most likely,” she said.

Phase two is expected to start later in spring.

It includes people 80 years of age or older and staff, residents and caregivers in other retirement homes and congregate care settings, such as assisted living. It will also include healthcare workers in the next priority group, all Indigenous adults, and adults who receive chronic home care services.

"We’re working and planning for not only the current stages, but also looking forward to the next stages to the vaccination program and delivery. And that obviously takes a lot of partnership and collaboration,” she said.

Vaccination clinics have been held in communities along the James Bay and Hudson Bay coast recently.

“We are working actively with the First Nation communities that we share lands with to … co-develop vaccine programs for their communities. To date, we have administered just over 830 doses to the first group,” she said.

To date, there have been 329 confirmed COVID-19 cases of the virus in the Porcupine Health Unit region. Of those, 279 are recovered and 25 people have died. There are 25 known active cases.

The area is currently in the Orange - Restrict zone of the province's COVID-19 Regional Response Framework. That status is reevaluated every two weeks, with an update expected later this week.

There are five ongoing outbreaks — three in long-term care homes, one in a congregate setting, and one at a workplace.

The region's test positivity rate is .7 per cent, and the infection rate is 21.6 per 100,000 people.

“With our current outbreaks and cases that have increased over the weekend, I expect we’ll stay in orange but we always wait to hear from the Ministry and see what the final numbers are throughout the week,” she said.

Two tests in Timmins have screened as potential variants of concern.

The testing to confirm if it is a variant and what kind of variant it is can take up to 14 days. With the number of positive variant screens in the province, Catton said that timeline could increase.

She expects the local tests will be confirmed as a variant because the cases are related to a variant of concern outbreak in another community.