So far in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic locally, the number of cases in the Porcupine Health Unit region has nearly doubled.
In a local update of the pandemic and where the region is at today, medical officer of health Dr. Lianne Catton said the numbers are "absolutely alarming".
Currently, according to Catton, the local infection rate is 93.5 cases per 100,000 people. While the province is in a state of emergency and under a stay-at-home order, the local numbers would have the region in the grey or lockdown level under the COVID-19 Regional Framework.
"I’m worried. We have a population that has more risk factors than other areas in the province. We have not fared so well in the past," she said.
While she acknowledged many cases are mild, she said there is no guidebook to show who the virus will adversely affect.
“Infections like this don’t follow rules, they don’t discriminate and the only way we can save lives is to work together and keep our infection rates down. We must do this. It is absolutely critical,” she said.
As the average age of people getting sick lowers, Catton said the region has been fortunate with the younger age groups as far as the severity of cases.
She noted cases in the region are not just being driven by young individuals. It's affecting people from all walks of life and many backgrounds, she said.
The light at the end of the tunnel for Catton is that people are being vaccinated.
So far, 29,766 people have been vaccinated and there have been 31,064 doses of the vaccine administered. These numbers do not include Operation Immunity, which was held on the James and Hudson Bay coast.
Recently, the age for people eligible for the vaccine dropped to people 50 years and over. Clinics also opened up to the first phase of essential workers who cannot work from home.
“Right now, I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised when we opened up the over 50 and the first group of essential workers that can’t work from home — we really expected that our clinics would be filled rather rapidly,” she said.
“I’m hoping over the course of the next few days we really see that increase because the more vaccines we get into arms the better off we’ll all be in the end."
For the local roll out, she said they've been cautious about moving down the age groups until they were confident that people who were eligible and consenting could access the vaccine.
“The most important thing is if you are eligible and you want the vaccine, please call and get the vaccine. Get booked, get the vaccine, get yourself protected and don’t hesitate,” she said.
People who are hesitant about vaccines should look for information from reliable sources to get questions answered.
While people are receiving vaccines locally, the bulk of those clinics have been in recent weeks. Catton said it takes time for the vaccines to work and it takes about 28 days after vaccination to see more significant decreases.
To date, there have been 646 confirmed cases of the virus in the region. Of those, 523 are recovered and 26 people have died. There are 97 known active cases.
There are COVID-19 assessment centres in Timmins, Cochrane, Iroquois Falls, Matheson, Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, Hearst, and Hornepayne, as well as communities on the James Bay coast.
There is a provincial shutdown and stay-at-home order in effect until further notice. For more details on the latest regulations, visit the Ontario website.