‘We really need to make sure we get this right’: As COVID-19 variants spread in Peel, region’s top doctor urges caution during provincial reopening
The Region of Peel has recently reported hopeful figures as much of the province begins to see an easing of widespread lockdown measures. As of February 17, the region recorded a weekly average of 103 cases per 100,000 people, down from 120.9 the week that ended February 6. Figures from Peel’s two cities show Mississauga currently has a weekly incidence rate of 81.3 cases per 100,000, down from 103 per 100,000 the week that ended February 6, while Brampton shows 137.2 per 100,000, down from 155 per 100,000 over the same period.
“That is incredible progress,” said Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie during Wednesday’s press conference. “A month ago, Mississauga was averaging 211 cases per 100,000, it's quite a significant decline. Let that sink in just how much progress we have made in just a month's time – we've seen a 65 per cent decline in our case numbers. This is proof that the stay-at-home-order has worked and that people across Ontario and particularly across Mississauga have listened to the advice of public health.”
Crombie’s optimistic tone was not matched by Peel’s medical officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh, who shared a message urging residents to be hesitant as the region moves into the Province’s colour-coded framework on February 22nd. The move comes despite Dr. Loh’s advice for the Province to delay reopening for another two weeks.
The Region of Peel peaked with an all-time high of 776 reported cases on January 13, about two weeks after the holiday season. Peel recorded 170 new cases on February 17.
“We are seeing that our trend is being driven by two different patterns that are going in vastly opposite directions. The original strains of COVID are going down, which is good. But the variant strains are accelerating in growth and those two trends are cancelling each other out,” he says. “Holding the status quo for just one incubation period – 14 days – will allow us to better see where the variant trends go and review any impact that [the] school reopening might have on community contacts and transmission.”
The request is supported by Toronto’s medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa who has called upon the Province to delay reopening until March 9 at the minimum.
Over the course of the last week, Peel Region jumped from five confirmed variant cases to 45; five being the B1351 variant from South Africa and the rest being the B117 variant from the U.K. Peel also confirmed over 200 cases that are positive for variants of concern. The transmission shows alarming speed, presumably requiring even less contact and proximity to spread than the original novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The remarks come just as a Mississauga condo was deemed to have a cluster of COVID-19 cases over the long weekend. Eight cases were confirmed, with five being the variant originally reported in South Africa. Peel Public Health was on site Monday and has tested over 500 people in the condo, leaving messages for those who were not home to go out and get tested.
When addressing if the variants pose a threat to recently reopened classrooms, Dr. Loh urged everyone to remain vigilant and follow health and safety guidelines.
Peel's medical officer of health Dr. Lawrence Loh
“In a condominium situation, and especially when people get home, there's a tendency to perhaps let measures slip,” said Dr. Loh, who provided insight from recent Peel Public Health investigations into the apartment outbreak and other emerging clusters. “With schools, there are a number of enhanced precautions that have been put into place, and there's also automatic dismissal and asymptomatic testing, which act as early warning triggers to make sure that we're able to stay ahead of this... Honestly, the best way we can protect our school setting is to keep our community levels of transmission down so that there isn’t an introduction into the school setting in the first place.”
Both Mississauga Mayor Crombie and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said that while they look forward to the eventual reopening of the region, they are leaning on Dr. Loh’s expertise and his ultimate decision whether or not to invoke Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, which gives him the authority to delay Provincial reopening plans in the region.
Although the emerging variants increase the risk for a third wave, officials remain optimistic that the region’s vaccination plans can continue to push Peel in the right direction. After experiencing significant delays in vaccine shipments, Mayor Crombie says the single biggest shipment of Pfizer vaccines arrived last week, with the federal government expecting larger shipments to come in next week. The Region is preparing its local vaccine rollout plan and community clinics are expected to open up later this month.
“The country is back on track. We're on track to receive 6 million doses of Moderna and Pfizer by the end of March and we have been assured vaccine deliveries will ramp up even further in April,” said Mayor Crombie.
Dr. Loh says the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the only two current vaccines approved by Health Canada, are not known to have any issues in addressing the variant originally detected in South Africa, whereas the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is currently under review, leaves “questions of its effectiveness in moderate and severe illness.”
Dr. Loh says he’s committed to working collaboratively with the Province, and he’s keeping in mind how his actions may affect other jurisdictions, most notably in terms of residents traveling throughout different regions with different lockdown measures, citing an interest on his part and Dr. de Villa’s to “make sure there’s a consistent approach across the Province.”
“I know everyone is tired. But I also know that we can't afford a third wave and a painful lockdown. The next few weeks are crucial for our kids, for our businesses, for the success of our vaccination program and for the most vulnerable among us, as they have always been... we really need to make sure we get this right.”
Email: [email protected]
COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you.
Submit a correction about this story