An “alarming” increase in COVID cases, including in several remote First Nations communities, means the northeast Porcupine health unit will remain on lockdown for two weeks.
The health unit will also open second doses to anyone who received a first injection on or before May 9, in an effort to protect against the more contagious Delta variant.
“The Porcupine Health Unit is still in its third wave,” Medical Officer of Health Dr Lianne Catton said at a Thursday afternoon press conference, held at the same time Steini Brown was presenting a much larger picture. optimistic about trends in the rest of the province on behalf of the Ontario Science Table.
Cases are drastically decreasing in almost all public health units. But in Porcupine, they “keep seeing cases, exhibits and spreading in absolutely every setting,” Catton said.
“It’s very difficult because we are going through this at a time when everyone is improving. “
Current restrictions will likely be in place until June 24, with no patio dining or non-essential in-person purchases. This makes Porcupine the only public health unit not to start reopening on Friday.
There were 51 new confirmed cases in the region on Thursday, including five in Timmins; 45 in the James Bay and Hudson Bay region; and one in the area of Cochrane, Matheson, Iroquois Falls, Smooth Rock Falls.
According to the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA), a community health care provider in the James Bay and Hudson Bay region, there are 43 new cases in Kashechewan First Nation.
There are two confirmed cases of the Delta variant in Porcupine so far, but they have no travel link, suggesting it is already circulating widely, Catton said.
She noted that the region has secured “several” additional vaccine allocations and “expects to hear more.”
This is crucial because the latest evidence suggests that “it’s a much bigger gap between the first and second dose than what we’ve seen with any of the other variants,” Catton said.
The region still has the highest number of new cases per hundred thousand of all health units in the province at 21.38, well above GTA hotspots Peel (9.41) and Toronto (4.17 ), based on the most recent provincial data.
Catton added that in Porcupine, the case rate increased by 125%, or 750 cases, from April 30 to May 31.
She remains “optimistic” that they will soon be joining the rest of the province. But they “need more time to make sure we deal with the situation appropriately.”
As of Thursday afternoon, according to the WAHA tally, there are now 202 cases in the James Bay and Hudson region, including 114 in Kashechewan, 48 in Fort Albany, 24 in Moosonee, 10 in Attawapiskat and six at Moose Factory.
“We are seeing cases of COVID increasing, particularly in two of the communities along the James Bay coast, Fort Albany and Kashechewan,” said WAHA President and CEO Lynne Innes.
“With the lack of infrastructure and isolation facilities in the communities, it makes things very difficult. When you have three families living in one house, that’s a challenge for us.
Most of the new cases along the James Bay coast are in children who have not yet been vaccinated, Innes said.
“We can assume that they are travel related and of course spread within the community, as we see it spreading pretty quickly and through children. “
According to the health unit, about 69% of adults in Porcupine have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine so far. But data from the nonprofit ICES research group, formerly known as the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, as of May 30, broken down by the first three letters of the zip code, shows that it varies by region.
In the region covered by P0L, which encompasses Moosonee and the James Bay coast, only 40% of the population has a first stroke. That’s compared to 65% in P4R (Timmins).
The Cochrane District EMS, which covers most of Porcupine, has run small pop-up clinics in Timmins and in small communities along Route 11, director and chef Jean Carrière told The Star earlier this week. week.
This “vaccine tour” is an effort to reach remote communities, some with as few as 50 homes, where people would otherwise have to travel long distances to more central vaccination sites.
“These mobile clinics are very flexible, we literally come in with a trailer and generator, tents and staff to set up pylons,” he said.
Operation Remote Immunity, aimed at introducing the Moderna vaccine to remote First Nations communities, began in early February and second doses were administered without delay. But only adults were eligible because the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was not yet approved for children 12 and older.
“We’ve had some issues with the reluctance to immunize,” Innes added, but said most communities have coverage of at least 70% of eligible adults. They are now working on Remote Immunity 2.0 to get doses to the arms of young people between the ages of 12 and 17.
Mobile trailers where people can safely self-isolate if needed would help, she said, contain new cases in the meantime.
“Our health care capacity is very strained,” she said.
“At the end of the day, we are not going to vaccinate to get out of the crisis we are in now. We must follow strict public health measures and ensure that people self-isolate, wear their masks and respect social distancing. “