As the number of new daily coronavirus infections in Ontario has recently increased, one city stands out as a hotter place than any other: Brampton.
The city of nearly 700,000 northwest of Toronto is part of Peel Region, an area that now has more active cases of COVID-19 – 451 as of Wednesday – than any other public health unit in the province, according to the provincial figures.
Toronto, which is more than twice the size of Peel’s, has 439 active cases.
Over the past week, the number of Peel cases has reached record highs since June, and about three-quarters of new infections have been diagnosed in Brampton residents, according to Monica Hau, Peel’s associate medical officer of health.
Behind the peak are at least 55 cases linked to a major workplace outbreak, as well as an increase in diagnosed cases among travelers returning mainly from international COVID-19 hotspots in India and Pakistan, many of whom are living in large multigenerational homes where the virus can easily spread.
Private social gatherings and domestic transmission also continue to play a role in the region’s epidemic, according to public health officials in Peel.
Although most recent cases in Brampton have involved younger adults who are less likely to become seriously ill, the peak is starting to spread to the city hospital, said Andrew Healey, acting chief of the William’s emergency department. Osler Health System, the network that includes the Brampton Civic Hospital.
“We’re starting to see it climb,” said Dr Healey. “We are starting to see [COVID-19] come back to our intensive care unit and we certainly see it in our emergency department. ”
In contrast, Trillium Health Partners, which oversees two hospitals in Peel’s other major city, Mississauga, has not seen COVID-19 admissions increase recently.
The two hospital networks are still seeing far fewer COVID-19 patients than at the height of the first wave in April and May.
The recent Large Peel Outbreak occurred in a Mississauga workplace that Peel Public Health declined to name due to confidentiality concerns. Sixty cases have been linked to the outbreak to date, including 55 among residents of Peel, the Peel Public Health Department said by email on Wednesday.
Most of the infected workers live in Brampton, according to Mayor Patrick Brown.
“Public health told me this is the biggest outbreak we have had during the pandemic in a cluster of workplaces,” Brown said in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday.
The mayor also said 32 travel-related cases were reported in Peel between Sept. 1-7, and public health officials brace for more as international college and university students arrive in Brampton from the foreign.
It is not clear if any of the newly diagnosed travelers have spread the coronavirus. Peel reported around 350 new cases last week, Dr Hau said at a press conference on Wednesday, which means recent travel-related cases are believed to be less than 10% of that total.
Peel Region has been one of the hardest hit areas in Ontario throughout the pandemic, although it was on hold over the summer. Certain characteristics of the region have made it particularly vulnerable to the virus, including the fact that many of its residents are racialized – which has been linked to higher rates of COVID-19 in many countries – and many also work in high-risk occupations. such as international trucking, manufacturing and health care.
Between mid-April and mid-July, the region reported that 77% of cases involved racialized residents, more than their share of 63% of Peel’s total population. South Asian, black and Latin American people were the most over-represented among those who caught the virus.
Peel was one of the last regions to move to Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan, which reopened indoor restaurants, gymnasiums and playgrounds.
Dr Hau said a few cases of COVID-19 have been found in staff or customers at fitness facilities and restaurants, but none of those cases posed a risk to the general public as those involved are said to have been infected elsewhere.
Peel Public Health has refused throughout the pandemic to disclose the locations of outbreaks in the workplace that do not pose a clear risk to the public – a policy Mr Brown has said he disagrees with.
“They say privacy law dictates that,” he says. “I don’t support this. I think we should be totally transparent and tell the public where this is going.
In an email response, Ashleigh Hawkins, a spokesperson for Peel Public Health, wrote: “No public notification is required for workplaces where we have the names of all close contacts identified in our survey. This is in accordance with provincial guidelines for workplace outbreaks. It also supports the privacy of people who test positive and the companies that employ them. “
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