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Health Unit prepared to impose tighter capacity limits

December 23, 2021   ·   0 Comments

The Simcoe Muskoka region could find itself under added restrictions under the direction of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit as reported cases of COVID-19 continue to remain high.

The Health Unit reported a total of 16,350 cases as of December 15 – that was up 639 over the previous week. This included 282 people who have died from the virus including two over the past week.

There are currently 28 residents hospitalized with COVID-19 with five in intensive care.

Dr. Charles Gardner, Medical Officer of Health, said during a December 15, news conference, “I have very serious concerns about what will come in the days that follow,” adding “this is the eighth week in a row we’ve had above the provincial rate.”

There are currently 37 outbreaks recorded in the region including 13 new outbreaks over the past week.

The region is approaching the 1 million mark of vaccinations given to residents.

Cases of the Omicron variant are doubling every three days in the province and provincial officials are warning it could become the dominant strain of the virus within a few weeks.

The speed at which it is progressing has many hospitals concerned.

“In reaching out to the CEOs of our hospital corporations throughout Simcoe Muskoka, I have been informed that they are very concerned about their capacity at this time,” Dr. Gardner said. “Although the number of cases admitted to hospital are about half of what they were at the height of the second and third wave, their capacity is not what it used to be with the loss of some human health resources.”

The Omicon variant, Dr. Gardner said, “heightens the need for us to reduce our level of social contact substantially at this time.”

With Omicron variant, he said, you cannot rely on two doses of the vaccine to be effective.

As result, Dr. Gardner penned a letter to the minister of health calling on the province to put restrictions on the capacity of businesses and public spaces to 50 per cent to all for more physical spacing between people and reduce the number of people in social settings.

“As the medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka I am prepared to issue a letter of instruction requiring a reduction in capacity limits to 50 per cent in business settings and other gatherings and facilities in our communities and a reduction down to no more than ten socially gathering together in order to safeguard our communities,” adding, “Most notably, the potential for a very large wave coming in short order because of the Omicron variant, I am prepared to proceed with this type of order, in fact I am prepared to do so within this week unless the province so proceeds instead.”

That decision came down Wednesday afternoon from the Province, taking effect on Sunday.

The 50 per cent capacity limit impacts many indoor public settings.

These include restaurants, bars, and other food or drink establishments and strip clubs; personal care services; personal physical fitness trainers; retailers (including grocery stores and pharmacies); shopping malls; non-spectator areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities, such as gyms; indoor recreational amenities; indoor clubhouses at outdoor recreational amenities; tour and guide services; photography studios and services; and marinas and boating clubs.

These limits do not apply to any portion of a business or place that is being used for a wedding, a funeral or a religious service, rite or ceremony, the Government noted. 

In another bid to help reduce the spread, the Government will limit the number of patrons sitting at a table to 10 people, with patrons required to remain seated in restaurants, bars and other similar settings.

Bars and restaurants will be required to close by 11 p.m., with longer hours for take out and delivery. 

Dancing will not be allowed except for workers or performers.

Food and drink services will be prohibited at sporting events, concert venues, theatres and cinemas, casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments; elsewhere, the sale of alcohol will be restricted after 10 p.m. and the consumption of alcohol in businesses or settings after 11 p.m.

Additionally, for informal social gatherings, just in time for the holiday season, there will be limits on social gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

“This was not an easy decision to make before the holidays, but the evidence is clear that further public health measures are required to slow the spread of Omicron and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” said Health Minister and Deputy Premier Christine Elliott.

With files from Brock Weir

By Brian Lockhart
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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