Restrictions likely to be extended despite 20 per cent drop in COVID-19 cases
BARRIE, ONT. -- The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) reports another dip in COVID-19 infections as Ontario's stay-at-home order is expected to be extended yet again.
The Simcoe Muskoka health unit logged 40 new COVID-19 infections Tuesday, plus one virus-related death.
So far, in May, six Simcoe County residents have lost their lives after contracting the disease.
The region's medical officer of health said roughly 50 per cent of Tuesday's reported cases are among residents under the age of 35.
As infection rates drop across the region, there has been an increase in variants of concern. The health unit reports cases of the P.1 strain, originally from Brazil, jumped from 22 two weeks ago to 76. There are 17 confirmed cases of the B.1.351 mutation, originally from South Africa.
There are currently 930 active COVID-19 cases across Simcoe Muskoka, including 31 hospitalizations - with 11 people in the intensive care unit.
Dr. Sohail Gandhi, an Ontario-based physician and past president of the Ontario Medical Association, said the province-wide restrictions were working. "The stay-at-home order, as much as we all hate it, is actually having the desired effect."
On Monday, Dr. David Williams, Ontario's medical officer of health, said he would like to see the number of daily COVID-19 cases across the province "well below" 1,000 before easing restrictions.
Ontario reported 2,073 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, which marks the lowest daily case count since late March.
Simcoe Muskoka's top doctor, Dr. Charles Gardner, said the stay-at-home order should remain in place until there were "significantly lower" rates to avoid a fourth wave. He added the steps to reopen the province would have to be "very cautious."
Dr. Gardner said he supports an extension of the stay-at-home order into June, adding that infection rates are still higher than in the second wave but hopes schools can reopen before the summer break. "Although we've had quite a significant reduction in transmission, we still have a fairly high level of transmission, so I don't know we're quite prepared yet to ensure the schools are safe."
Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said outdoor activities such as golf, tennis and beach volleyball could safely resume even if the province extends the stay-at-home order. Scientific Director Dr. Peter Juni says those activities are low risk.
However, the province remains tight-lipped on its reopening plan. The stay-at-home order is currently in effect until at least May 20 if it's not extended.
Along with the stay-at-home order, COVID-19 vaccines are credited with the drop in infections. Over 37 per cent of residents in Simcoe Muskoka have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"The vaccines are very highly effective, and there's mounting evidence they reduce transmission to others," said Dr. Gardner.
More residents were made eligible to register to roll up their sleeves for the booster shot on Tuesday.
Residents with at-risk conditions and those who cannot work from home, including grocery stores, restaurant and transportation workers, in Ontario are now eligible to book an appointment for a COVID-19 shot.
The province expects 65 percent of adults to have their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of May.
With files from The Canadian Press