Further Restrictions For Simcoe Muskoka Starting Monday Due To COVID-19

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As the highly transmissible Omicron variant takes hold in Ontario with modeling projections showing an alarming spread in the population, and as Simcoe Muskoka continues to see high rates of COVID-19, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) is taking further action to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health of all residents and our limited health care resources.

The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants is through vaccination. As cases of Omicron increase, there is emerging evidence that while two doses provide some protection against infection and hospitalization, it is not as strong as for other variants, so there is an urgent need for booster doses for everyone who is eligible to receive one, particularly for the older population.

The health unit is stepping up its efforts to increase the level of vaccination amongst residents over the next few weeks, focusing on providing booster doses for eligible individuals, including those aged 50 years and older who received their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine at least 168 days ago, while maintaining access to the important first dose vaccination for 5 to 11-year-olds.

To accomplish this ambitious campaign, the health unit is significantly increasing the number of appointments at its community clinics and is collaborating closely with its various health care and pharmacy partners to greatly increase access to COVID-19 vaccines in many locations for eligible individuals.

The health unit is also placing all non-COVID-19-related programs and services on hold so that staff can be redeployed to support the COVID-19 vaccination efforts, while maintaining basic COVID-19 case and contact management, outbreak management, enforcement, phone line, surveillance and communications response.

Booster vaccines are available at community clinics by appointment and can be booked through the COVID-19 Vaccination Portal or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900. COVID-19 vaccinations are also available at the Cottage Country Family Health Team in Gravenhurst and the Algonquin Family Health Team in Huntsville, Couchiching Ontario Health Team Clinic, some health care providers and family health teams, select pharmacies, the GO-VAXX Bus, and some Indigenous-led clinics. All other eligible individuals, including children five to 11 years, who have not yet received a first, second or third dose of vaccine are encouraged to do so as soon as possible and may also book an appointment for one of these options.

The health unit is also preparing to implement further restrictions on the number of people who can gather as another strategy to reduce the spread of the virus, given that two dose vaccination status cannot not be relied upon for protection against the Omicron variant (with a third dose being needed).

“Unfortunately, the easing of provincial restrictions in October allowing larger social gatherings and colder temperatures bringing people indoors has led to more close contact interactions, which have contributed to the higher case counts and more hospitalizations locally,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU’s medical officer of health. “I am particularly concerned about the high rates of COVID-19 transmission locally at the same time we are seeing the surge in cases across Ontario with the Omicron variant for which a third dose of vaccination is required for protection. There are already great demands on our healthcare services in our community and decisive action is needed now to prevent our situation from becoming dire.”

With cases of Omicron doubling every three days throughout the province and set to outpace the Delta variant, the effects of the virus are being felt throughout the healthcare system.

“With the recent rise in overall COVID-19 in our region, along with the rapidly emerging threat of the Omicron variant, we are concerned that access to necessary hospital services may be at risk,” said Carmine Stumpo, President and CEO, Orillia Soldier’s Memorial Hospital on behalf of the six hospitals in Simcoe Muskoka. “Hospitals currently are still recovering from previous delays in accessing care, continue to support COVID-related supports like testing centres and vaccination clinics and coping with staff shortages on a regular basis. Front-line and support staff in hospitals across the region have been stretched well beyond their usual capacity for an extended period of time. Any further increase in hospitalization associated with a COVID-19 surge will create significant capacity issues region-wide.”

To address the expected surge of Omicron cases and to protect public health and healthcare capacity, the health unit has prepared a new Letter of Instruction (LOI) and Section 22 Order for all residents, employers, businesses, and organizations in Simcoe Muskoka that would reduce capacity limits for certain business types, including restaurants/bars, event spaces and indoor sports and recreational fitness facilities. Private social gatherings would also be limited as would capacity at weddings, funerals and religious services.

“I intend to issue these local instructions and orders within this week if the provincial government does not announce broad province-wide restrictions and other public health measures to stem the rise of Omicron,” stated Dr. Gardner, noting that the instructions and orders would come into effect on Monday, December 20. “If we are to manage Omicron with any success, it will be critical that along with these additional restrictions that reduce physical interaction as much as possible in all settings, that everyone continues to comply with the existing public health measures.”

Existing public health measures include staying home when feeling ill and getting tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19, maintaining a physical distance of at least 2 metres from those living outside of your household, wearing a mask indoors and outdoors when physical distancing is not possible, covering your cough, and washing your hands regularly.

To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and current public health measures and requirements, visit smdhu.org/covid19.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Good luck trying to get a booster shot in Muskoka. Absolutely NO CLINICS being held.
    What are our Ministry of Health politicians doing for us besides rules, rules, rules! NOTHING!

  2. No Boosters in Huntsville. Meanwhile the GTA have an ample supply. This is not fair. After waiting 80 minutes online with the province, my spouse was given an appointment of January 27th, 2022, 84 kms away in Minden. He is a senior and working in retail full time. If this is how we are treated in Muskoka, it is pretty disgusting. Smarten up Health Unit and Doug Ford.

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