Elgin and Oxford counties have not yet flattened the curve on a recent COVID case spike, the region’s top doctor says, giving notice of tighter restrictions coming for indoor public spaces early next week.
Southwestern Public Health, the health unit in the two counties near London, is still seeing rising case counts and will release a letter of instruction to businesses and organizations early next week reintroducing capacity and physical distancing restrictions.
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“We’re not yet flattening our curve. Our curve is going uphill,” medical officer of health Joyce Lock said Friday. “Hopefully everybody will understand that we’ve tried to position this letter of instruction to be effective and the least hurtful to people, in terms of curtailing what they do as the weeks go by before Christmas.”
Medical officers of health in the province can use letters of instruction to create additional restrictions that are not included in the Reopening Ontario Act. The requirements in the letter are considered mandatory and enforceable under the act.
St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital,
which two weeks ago warned COVID-19 patients were overwhelming its capacity
, has had to transfer four COVID-19 patients to area intensive care units, three to London and one to Stratford.
At the time of its public alert on Nov. 12, the St. Thomas hospital was caring for 13 COVID-19 patients. The number has risen as high as 18 since then, but was at 15 as of Friday, a hospital spokesperson said.
The hospital had six COVID-19 patients in intensive care Friday and continues to see high numbers of infected people in its emergency department.
Southwestern Public Health has been monitoring the local case spike for weeks, but did not want to slap down tighter public health restrictions without doing its due diligence, Lock said.
“We’d hoped to have the new restrictions out this week, but it is a decision that requires very careful thought,” Lock said, adding the health unit has good COVID-19 vaccine coverage overall.
“It was a matter of doing this in a way that leads to improvement and flattening the curve, but still taking into consideration the many people who have gotten their two doses. We had to weigh a lot of issues.”
The health unit, which serves approximately 200,000 people, is reporting 181 active cases. Of those,
39 are in Aylmer, 37 are in Tillsonburg and 32 are in Woodstock.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit, with a population of nearly 500,000 people, has 133 active cases.
The Thames Valley District school board announced Friday it is delaying the reopening of Port Burwell elementary school by three days after a COVID-19 outbreak shuttered the Elgin County school.
Students were supposed to return for in-person classes Monday, but the school will now reopen Thursday, the board said. Southwestern Public Health is reporting active COVID-19 outbreaks in five schools as of Friday.
Southwestern reported 24 new COVID-19 cases Friday, while Middlesex-London added 13.
On Friday, the province announced six additional COVID-19 deaths and 927 new cases, the highest one-day case count since early September.