NWHU reacts to shutdown extension in Northern Ontario, students returning to class
Tim Brody - Editor
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the province, the Government of Ontario has extended the COVID-19 shutdown in Northern Ontario until at least January 23.
Elementary and secondary school students in the seven Northern Ontario public health unit regions were allowed to return to in-person learning January 11. In-person learning will be deferred to January 25 in Southern Ontario.
“These time-limited measures are being taken to help ensure that all Ontarians stay at home as much as possible to minimize transmission of the virus and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, while at the same time being responsive to the fact that Northern Ontario students are not able to learn at home as effectively due to limited access to reliable Internet service,” the Government of Ontario shared in a news release on Jan. 7.
“With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe,” said Premier Doug Ford in a news release issued by the Province. “That’s why we’re extending the remote learning period for students in Southern Ontario and the shutdown period for Northern Ontario, while continuing to provide financial relief for parents through the Support for Learners program as well as electricity rate relief for all time-of-use customers. We have to get the numbers down and today’s measures will help us continue to stop the spread of this deadly virus.”
Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kit Young Hoon shared with members of the media on Jan. 8, “I did note to the province that our numbers are increasing and so keeping the lockdown continued would be reasonable.”
Asked her opinion on the government’s decisions on Jan. 7, Young Hoon stated, “I think those decisions are reasonable. Our numbers have been increasing. I know other northern health units where the numbers are increasing, so it is reasonable to continue the shutdown. With allowing schools to open, again I think that’s a reasonable decision. We have not seen significant transmission in schools.”
Young Hoon told area media representatives on Jan. 8, “There has been increasing cases in the Kenora area and the Rainy River District affecting multiple communities. All residents need to be aware of this increased risk as it applies across communities, and therefore need to be aware of the importance of following public health measures.”
She added, “It is very important that individuals with symptoms get tested as soon as they can. The earlier we get positive results, the faster household and close contacts can go into self-isolation. Timeliness is very important because cases are infectious for 48 hours before their symptoms start.”
Commenting on the return to in-person learning for students, Young Hoon shared, “Schools are generally a setting with relatively low transmission and Northwestern Health Unit will continue to work with schools to ensure prevention measures continue to be followed. With the increasing rates in our area, the increased risk can impact schools. So it is important that staff and students are extra vigilant with public health measures. We encourage anyone who was ill over the holidays with COVID like symptoms and did not get tested, to self-isolate and to get tested as soon as possible. If they’re choosing not to get tested, then they need to self-isolate for 10 days from symptom onsets before returning to school… I urge parents to use the daily school screening tool for their children each morning to keep their schools safe and open.”
NWHU is asking parents to reinforce the importance of public health measures with their children, including encouraging mask use, hand hygiene and physical distancing.
“We may still have infections circulating in our communities that occurred over the holiday break. If any household members are sick, it is important that they self-isolate and get tested right away to prevent spreading the illness to others,” Young Hoon stated.
NWHU shared that anyone with questions about how to get tested is asked to call their local assessment centre. For other COVID-19 information, people can call NWHU’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-866-468-2240 or visit their website at www.nwhu.on.ca/covid19 .
As of noon on Jan. 11, NWHU was reporting 51 active cases in its catchment area, 22 in the Kenora region, 27 in the District of Rainy River and two in the Dryden / Red Lake region.