OWEN SOUND, ONT. -- Nearly a year into the pandemic, Grey and Bruce counties have maintained their COVID-19 death rate at zero.

Dr. Ian Arra, the region's medical officer of health, says an "iron ring" around their long-term care homes has been vital and proof public health recommendations work.

"I have no doubt. I have full trust in the community in Grey Bruce. We will go through this pandemic, we will get the vaccine, and we will still be in a relatively positive position," Arra says.  "In normal times, it's all about efficiency, but in an emergency, redundancy is a virtue. Leave nothing to chance."

The doctor says the iron ring is made up of community-wide diligence, with everyone playing their part and following safety measures. As an added measure, the health unit deployed rapid tests to various sectors, including long-term care homes, hospitals and first responders.

However, because of its impressive run, the downside is Grey Bruce remains low on the province's priority list to receive the vaccine.

So far, the region has been given 750 doses, with another 700 expected to arrive next week, all directed to long-term care homes.

Errinrung Long Term Care and Retirement Home executive director Leanne Haynes says the vaccine's arrival equals relief. "We are hoping it's going to create a safer place for our residents to live. A safer place for our staff to work and look at loosening some of the restrictions once public health gives us those guidelines."

Grey Bruce has no outbreaks to mention, and there's been no evidence of a COVID-19 variant in the community. But as Simcoe Muskoka's neighbour, where a coronavirus variant has been reported, there is increased urgency to get the vaccine deployed to Grey Bruce.

The medical officer of health says plans are in place should an outbreak occur.

"Everybody around the table is ready to support long-term care if we get to that extreme scenario. Again, I have a high level of confidence that we will never get to that scenario," Arra says.

The region has had a total of 637 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic; 607 have been resolved.

Plans for mass immunization hubs have been finalized in Grey Bruce. The health unit is expected to release details on Friday.