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'We’re spreading it amongst ourselves', says top doc of recent COVID-19 case surge

Spreading pattern of the variant is 'alarming and very concerning', says Catton
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With a significant surge of COVID-19 cases across the Porcupine Health Unit region, medical officer of health Dr. Lianne Catton says people are sharing it amongst themselves in the north.

"There are not a lot of links to travel with this surge. We need to recognize that our actions with our own communities right now as northerners who look out for one another, who have a great reputation for working together and having tremendous resilience — we’re spreading it amongst ourselves. We’re not needing the travel to really bring this surge on right now,” she said in an virtual update today.

To date, there have been 511 confirmed cases of the virus in the region. Of those, 392 are recovered and 25 people have died. There are 94 known active cases. 

As of April 17, the weekly infection rate is 86.3 cases per 100,000 population.

There have also been 99 variants of concern — mostly the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7) strain. Since March 25, Catton said 60 per cent of cases are now variants.

Because of the time it takes for positive tests to be screened for a variant, she expects that number is actually much higher.

“The spread patterns of this strain are alarming and very concerning and really speak to the fact that we need absolute diligence with the measures that we know make a difference,”  she said.

Those measures are social distancing, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and staying home and getting a COVID-19 test if you feel unwell.

There are seven outbreaks in the area — McEwan Mining - Black Fox Mine, Glencore's Kidd Mine, Black River-Matheson town staff, St. Anne English Catholic School, Iroquois Falls Secondary School, Iroquois Falls Public Schools, and Pope Francis elementary.

“What we’re seeing in the area — we’re seeing obviously a tremendous increase in cases, tremendous spread, incredible number of high-risk contacts per case. Last week we had the highest number of high-risk contacts on average compared to other health units, which is really alarming and concerning, it’s a significant amount of work,” she said.

Last week, the province extended the stay-at-home order and state of emergency. Further restrictions were also put in place.

Catton said the recent surge in cases locally "speaks to the fact that we did need further measures in place."

"We need people staying home, we need people to stop interacting with those they don’t live with unless it is absolutely essential and that is how we are going to get through this,” she said.

Vaccine clinics are being offered across the region.

So far, 23,920 doses have been administered. 

Moderna is the main vaccine that has been used. This week, Catton said Pfizer will also be used locally, mostly at Timmins clinics because of the storage and handling requirements. 

Three pharmacies, the Kapuskasing Family Health Team, and the Timmins Academic Family Health Team are offering the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The best vaccine, said Catton, is one that that is offered that you are eligible for.

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. 

The Porcupine Health Unit COVID-19 information line can be reached at 705-360-4819 or 1-800-461-1818.

People eligible for a vaccine can register for upcoming clinics in the region here. Select pharmacies are also delivering the vaccine. Find a list of those and book an appointment here.


Maija Hoggett

About the Author: Maija Hoggett

Maija Hoggett is an experienced journalist who covers Timmins and area
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