COVID-19 rates in northern communities continue to fluctuate
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority’s (SLFNHA) Public Health Physician, Dr. Lloyd Douglas, is continuing to urge vigilance as COVID-19 rates continue to fluctuate across area First Nation communities.
As Dr. Douglas noted, “At the end of last week (April 8) we were at 294 positive cases. Now we are back up to 433 and that’s due to what I’m going to call a resurgence in Kasabonika. What we are at today is 105 active cases, for Kasabonika First Nation.”
Communities continue to experience outbreaks that can cause spikes in active case numbers, as Dr. Douglas explained, stating, “For example, Deer Lake (First Nation) had a relatively recent outbreak. They are now down to just nine cases today (April 14). Keewaywin had an outbreak. While they are still at 22, we expect those cases to resolve. Another community that we are watching is Mishkeegogamang. They are a large community with road access, and they are at 34, with 13 being new cases. Lac Seul has eight new cases. Pikangikum, a large community, are at 73, with 13 new cases. Sandy Lake is at 14 with nine new cases... everybody else is at less than 10 new cases. Primarily what we’re seeing is that we have three communities with greater than 10 new cases, as of April 15. There is clearly a resurgence in Kasabonika, one of our larger communities and we are keeping a close eye on that. We are sitting at 433 (as of April 14), which is not a good number.”
Dr. Douglas also noted that the possibility that some of these numbers might be reinfections is being monitored closely.
“That’s under investigation as we speak. We do have a few, and when I say a few, it’s probably less than five, cases of reinfection in our region which we are still investigating. These individuals would have been infected less than two months ago, and they are now symptomatic and testing positive for COVID again. We are working with the Public Health Ontario lab to do a bit of surveillance, and whole genome sequencing on a few of these samples for the BA.2 subvariant. We have not received confirmation that we are dealing with the BA.2 within our communities, however the BA.2 has been confirmed within both our health unit’s catchment areas.” Dr. Douglas also noted that for Thunder Bay District Health Unit the percentage of cases confirmed as BA.2 was at nine percent of all samples tested, while for the Northwestern Health Unit, out of 90 samples the percentage of positivity for BA.2 was just above 20 percent.
Dr. Douglas continued, “We are still in our initial Omicron wave or surge, which has predominantly been driven by the BA.1 and BA1.1 subvariant. We are concerned that in the news, The Star came out and said that new COVID-19 cases in Ontario have likely plateaued. We don’t believe that we are seeing that just yet in the north, as we are always behind. With the removal of restrictions and mandates, and all regulations set to expire April 27, will we have sort of our BA.2 wave? That is something we are concerned about.”
Moving forward, Dr. Douglas believes staying the course is essential.
“As you know the Chiefs have not rescinded their regional restrictions. They are still in place across the board. However, we are looking at recommendations, given this new environment, in terms of the rest of the province having no restrictions come the end of the month. Those include a strong recommendation to keep your masks on, especially when in public places. We are also looking at how to adjust our recommendations in light of some new tools that we now have to fight COVID. For example, getting access to rapid antigen tests on the community level has improved, as has access to oral COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid. It seems quite obvious, given the Omicron surge, we were unable to keep Omicron out of our communities through travel restrictions and quarantine restrictions. Containment has been a challenge in our communities, with regards to Omicron, it is just so transmissible. Do we pivot then and look at more mitigation, and focus on what the individual can do to protect themselves, their families and their community? We will be having those discussions. We will be speaking with the Chiefs Committee on Health probably within the next two weeks and will be presenting our recommendations.”
Dr Douglas said people need to remain vigilant, adding, “Get your vaccine if you are not yet vaccinated. Get your booster shots. Our third dose booster shot uptake for 12 years and older is only at 43.7 percent. We need a lot more people to get their third dose, so that eventually they can get their fourth dose. The other thing too is to keep those masks on. While we don’t have a mandate, we have a strong recommendation in light of what is happening both in our region and what is happening in the province, in regard to the sixth wave. Be very vigilant; keep washing hands and social distancing. COVID is still here. Let’s do everything that we can.”